Tampa Bay community reacts to the death of Winter the Dolphin

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Mariah Potter met Winter the Dolphin more than 10 years ago when she was a student at Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf where she now teaches.

“It’s not just a zoo animal. She was an inspiration to us,” Potter said.

News Channel 8’s cameras were there the day Potter’s class visited Winter at the Clearwater Marina Aquarium back in 2009.

“Oh, it’s crazy. I love seeing all those good memories and seeing Winter and seeing all of us,” she said.

She broke the tragic news to all of those old classmates Friday morning.

“I’ve actually texted them and talked to them and was like did you hear that Winter passed. It’s crazy as an adult now looking back and still having those friendships and remembering those adventures,” Potter said.

What she remembers most is Winter’s story and how relatable it was.

“Just looking back as a little kid being hard of hearing and our challenges in life.. just watching her be able to overcome it, it showed me that we can overcome it and beat our challenges as well,” Potter said.

A lesson Potter said she’s carried into adulthood.

“It’s really important to have people… a different perspective of life and seeing how animals like Winter or other adults how they can influence us,” she said.

Many knew Winter from the movies Dolphin Tale, Crystal Molina was an extra in them as a child.

“It was super exciting. It was a very amazing opportunity.” Molina said. “She didn’t care that she didn’t have a tail. She just went on with her life and kept swimming,”

The moment that touched her most was back in 2010 when she got a chance to swim with Winter. She was one of many patients from the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, to experience a moment many of us can’t imagine.

“The first time I ever experienced seeing an animal without a tail or with a disability and she had a little bit of scoliosis and I have spina bifida.” It’s that part of Winter’s story that’ll inspire her forever. “I know that a lot of people with prosthetics, with all different kinds of disabilities, are like… well if she can be normal and she can do her stuff then we can too,” said Molina.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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