I’m 25 & Thrivin’

As I sit here thinking about my 25th Birthday today, I can’t help but look back on one of my fondest birthday’s to date… Flash back to 2005, my 12th Birthday & the very first Dolphin Interaction I ever did at SeaWorld San Diego. My parent’s took us on a family vacation where we drove across country from Texas to Arizona to California, stopping at the Grand Canyon, Hollywood & San Diego along the way. I had originally gotten High School Musical National Tour tickets for Christmas {umm flawless, I know} that year before. But because of my dad’s work event in Cali that we were road tripping to, I sold them & bought this dolphin interaction instead. Best. Decision. Ever.

I distinctly remember just being in awe of putting on a SeaWorld wetsuit, relishing in the fact that this had been a dream since my very first SeaWorld San Antonio visit in 1998. I asked that poor trainer a million & a half questions about her job, her passion & how she got where she was… She impacted my life immensely & told me I’d get there someday if I really really gave it everything. Thinking back to that first visit to SeaWorld, my world changed, even though I was only 5 years old. I fell madly in love with these oceanic creatures & wanted to learn everything I could about them. {see me below in the flawless pink visor, turning around to make sure Mom & Dad were seeing what I was… A KILLER WHALE} As they’ve told me, I drug them around the park all day & made them watch every single show with me multiple times. IMG_1522

From that moment, I dedicated my little hopes & dreams towards becoming an animal trainer… Although I initially wanted to work with only dolphins, I quickly extended that love to every animal I came in contact with. {except monkeys… that’s a hard no for me} My parents surprised me the next summer with a SeaWorld San Antonio Summer Career Camp, where I stayed at SeaWorld for an entire week. I learned all about how they work with their animals, how they train & most importantly that the job was more than just fun… We did so much cleaning. I remember walking into the fish house on a tour where the trainers were explaining that whenever someone walked in, they brought germs, so it had to be cleaned… Which is exactly when they threw buckets & scrubbers at us to get to work. While other kids complained, I could’ve cried from happiness {full discloser, I totally did} that I was even given the opportunity to scrub Shamu Stadium with a brush. I learned so much about building a relationship with those animals, just from doing camp, that I knew this was the career path for me.

After Career Camp at SeaWorld, I started High School & kept up my dream by choosing to study a degree in Psychology in College. The summer before leaving, I snagged a job at Discovery Cove as a Videographer for the Dolphin Interactions. My. World. Was. Opened. Before working at that facility, my mind was set on being “Marina” the pink trainer in Blue Horizons at SeaWorld – singing & dancing her way into the hearts of the crowd by aerial tricks & a strong bond with her dolphin pals. Once I started at Discovery Cove, I realized that the interaction side of this field was where I needed to be.

I talked to every single trainer I could, asking everything about what I needed to one day be considered for that job… What internships, what volunteer work, what to study & how to stand out on an application. I was 18 & already planning for when I’d graduate & enter the professional world. I’m sure I annoyed those trainers with constant questions, but I’m so thankful for the advice that eventually got me to where I am today.

Leaving Discovery Cove {the first time} was incredibly heartbreaking… There was a part of me that thought I might not ever make it back, but I knew I had to push forward to get where I wanted. {This is Marea, my dolphin lady love who still lives at DC who stole my heart with her diva tendencies} Next, I started volunteering at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in the Marine Mammal Department. I learned about how to do fish prep for all the animals, clean clean clean clean clean & how to take accurate records & observations of their behavior. I also got my Open Water SCUBA certification my Freshman year of school & joined the CMA Dive Team to help them clean all the exhibits. 424310_3895910194483_418281409_n

After my time at CMA, I moved to The Florida Aquarium where I interned in the Animal Husbandry Department. Wow. What an eye opener to many other species than just dolphins. I learned there that I had a special place in my heart for snakes, tortoises, lemurs, otters, penguins & alligators. I cleaned more exhibits than ever before, but really gained professional insight on how to act as an intern. I also wrote my thesis while interning about their transitions from being biologists to animal trainers & how important it was to make that shift for them. {It was really a great project to be apart of}

After graduation, I made my way back to Discovery Cove in the Water Safety Department. Whew. What a challenge. Lifeguards are no joke, friends. The training & dedication it took to keeping guests safe was something I’ll never take for granted. I learned another side to the DC team & really began to appreciate everything that went into making that facility run. Next, I transferred across the street to SeaWorld Orlando for the Education Department. Eye – Opener.

Working in Education gave me just another small piece of the puzzle when working with animals & people in this field. So much wonderful & factual information was readily available to me… A wealth of knowledge that I was so lucky to be given. I staffed the exhibits, poured out my heart & soul to guests about the animals & really was rewarded every day by doing so. I spread my passion, I spread conservation, I spread happiness & learning. It was the most challenging yet rewarding thing I’ve done to date. Finding an animal in the park that sparked someone’s interest, answering their millions of questions & then being able to transfer that love to their oceanic counterparts by encouraging lifestyle changes… it made such an incredible impact.

While still working in Education at SeaWorld, I also started as an Educator at The Central Florida Zoo where I expanded my love for marine mammals to terrestrial animals as well. {While I loved them, I really still do enjoy oceanic species the best.} I learned all about snake handling, armadillos, birds, & much more while going to schools & bringing the zoo to them. Educating people in a aquarium or facility is one thing, but going to a school with silly kids is another. The questions I was thrown were hysterical & I’m glad we were able to spark imagination & creativity.

A couple months later, I finally got my big break as a REAL Marine Mammal Trainer at The Navy Marine Mammal Program & had to say goodbye to SeaWorld for the second time. Whew. The tears. While I was leaving the facility I loved & cared so deeply for, I knew I needed to gain more experience to one day make it back again.

I started at the Navy & wow, my eyes were opened to yet another side of the training world. Writing my own training plans, learning how to maintain husbandry & behaviors while also building a strong relationship with my animals {SeaLions & Dolphins} to complete missions… it was an amazing, challenging & daunting task. I was given so many great opportunities for growth, learning & honestly complete bad-assery. This job amped up my diving skills, boat driving, real world animal experience & also shot my confidence through the roof at all I’d accomplished so far at just 25. {That’s all I can say, but you’re more than welcome to head over to google to do some research on what I might do all on your own.}

While my journey still isn’t quite over, I can’t help but think back to that first incredible birthday present I was given at age 12. Meeting a dolphin up close & personal like that changed me. It gave me this passion that has driven my whole life. Every decision I have made since that day has been carefully calculated to get me where I am & where I’m headed today. I skipped many social events in college because I had to get up at 5am for my internship the next day… I currently work full-time on nights & still volunteer on my day off at Marineland Dolphin Adventure to keep up my love of educating the public about animals.

Every chance I get, I’m working towards that goal of educating people about these amazing animals so that they can translate that to the ocean. That’s what matters. They’re what matters. This planet is so precious & we need to do our part to conserve it. Care about it. Love it. Protect it. If we don’t, then who will, right? I was so lucky to have a trainer inspire me when I was 5 to want to save the planet & all the animals. I think theses wonderful facilities have an amazing chance to give those up close experiences to people who might not ever see the ocean in their lifetime… Appreciate what they do & what they stand for in the big picture. The Planet. The Ocean. Real Relationships. Real connections. Real animals that deserve a clean ocean just like we deserve a clean planet.

*End soap box rant* Long story Long, I love me some animals. I’m so lucky to have had the experiences I did… I’m so lucky to have a family, friends & a husband who support me whole heartedly in everything I set my mind to. It’s all been worth it. As I go into this 25th Birthday, I can’t help but smile… because I know I truly am 25 & thrivin’. I’m in my dream field, with a dream husband, great puppers & a wonderfully exciting life to cherish. I wouldn’t change it for the world… x -A

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