When she first saw the big gray creature right in front of her in the pool, Ireland Nugent cried.
Even though 2-year-old girl had seen the movie Dolphin Tale and kept a stuffed likeness of Winter at her bedside during weeks spend at Tampa General Hospital, the up-close encounter was another matter.
Winter, however, was unfazed, and lay nearly still in the pool until Ireland’s father gently guided her hand to pet the dolphin’s slick back.
Soon Winter whistled and Ireland smiled. Then the trainer told her to raise a hand and tell the dolphin to jump and Winter plopped up on a floating blue mat.
Ireland’s parents, Jerry and Nicole Nugent of Palm Harbor, said they think their little girl, who lost both her legs below the knee in a lawnmower accident, will be able to identify with the dolphin that lost her tail and now swims with a prosthetic.
“She’s so young; it’s hard to explain to her what’s going on with hers. And when she starts asking about her feet, we can say, well, you’re going to get new feet, just like Winter the Dolphin got a new tail,” Jerry Nugent said.
“She kind of understands that a little bit.”
Winter swam without her prosthetic this morning at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and allowed Ireland and her parents to reach out and touch the spot where she lost her tail.
“To see Winter without her tail and still see that Winter has such a vibrant life, you can play and whistle and play games with her, really lets her know that she can still do the same things,” Nicole Nugent said of the experience.
The aquarium invited Ireland and the entire Nugent family for a visit Saturday. Some of Ireland’s siblings got a chance to feed Winter.