By Sandy Lo
I was always goal-oriented. I believed in big dreams and making them come true. Children dream without logic of money or reality. They can be a movie star, a princess, a fireman, or all three! Most kids grow out of that stage. With age comes cynicism, and the feeling of “I can’t do that”.
When I was little, I dreamt of being a marine biologist. I couldn’t care less for science, but I loved animals, especially the ones in the great big ocean who could swim fast and graceful. I even imagined I was a dolphin sometimes. They always appeared so happy and free. I was afraid of many things growing up: drowning, heights, the dark, ghosts, small spaces, and authority figures. But dolphins seemed fearless. In movies, I saw them hit killer sharks with their tails and bounce villains around with their noses.
Eventually, I grew out of wanting to be a marine biologist (being that I was atrocious in all kinds of science). All I really cared about was swimming and hanging out with water mammals. On my bucket list — yes, I have had one as far back as I can remember — I had at the top, “swim with a dolphin”. Someday, I told myself, it would happen.
I saw photos and videos of people riding on dolphins all over TV advertisements and shows. However, over the years, I began to look at those dolphins and whales held in captivity very differently though. They weren’t free or fearless like I always envisioned dolphins to be; I assumed they weren’t happy either.
These animals are often taken away from their homes and families, where they are shoved into small tanks and forced to do tricks for others’ amusement. With increasing injuries to Sea World trainers and more knowledge about marine mammals in captivity coming to the surface, it became clear I would not feel good about swimming with a dolphin at any aquarium.
It was a mental struggle for me: follow my beliefs of animal rights or ignore them to accomplish my dream? That child in me still kept hope that there would be a way — the right way to make my life-long dream come true.
After some research, I found out about wild dolphin swims. I know what you must be thinking… Isn’t that dangerous? No more dangerous than petting an unknown dog. When I began to tell my family and friends of my plans, I received questions like: What about sharks? Aren’t you nervous to swim in the middle of the ocean? You’re going alone!?
That little girl, who was so fearful of many things, learned one important thing in life, and it’s the one piece of advice I live by: fear is the only thing that holds you back from your dreams.
Was I afraid to swim in the ocean where wild sharks and other creatures may be? Was I afraid to snorkel for the first time while being dragged by a boat? Sure! But I did it anyway. The result: an amazing, unforgettable experience!
I flew to Bimini, a small island in the Bahamas on this teeny tiny plane. I did not feel claustrophobic or a fear of heights. I felt free, actually, released from any hang-ups by going after something I wanted for so long. I was to live ashore for the week on a dive boat called Indigo. People kept referring to my trip as a cruise. Not quite. Yes, meals were included, but I was not on some large cruise ship with pools and activities on board.
I shared a cabin with three other people. We had family-style meals with all 12 passengers. We read, took naps, got to know one another, and took in the ocean breeze. The first dolphin sighting was the second day on the boat. The adrenaline was pumping through us as we put our snorkel gear on. With me being the only one who had never snorkeled, I got in the water last. Needless to say, I was nervous, excited, and terrified.
In order to keep up with a pod of dolphins, we held onto ropes tied to the back of the boat while it was moving! I was the closest to the propellers of the boat and was receiving quite a bit of turbulence from it. I remember wanting the experience to be over as soon as it started. I was not used to holding my face under water and breathing into a tube in my mouth!
Suddenly, there were two spotted dolphins a few feet away from me. It almost felt like I stopped breathing, but really I stopped concentrating on my breathing; I was lost in the beauty of these animals. They swam so effortlessly and in sync with one another. There were two more dolphins to the left and before I knew it, there were four dolphins in front of me underneath the boat. It was like I was dreaming; it was so surreal. Soon, a mommy and a baby were incredibly close to me. They turned to look at me as they swam underneath me. Those smiling faces were looking directly at me!
We stayed in the water for two hours swimming alongside dolphins; there were 27 dolphins around us at one point! Afterwards, everyone on the boat was bursting with stories and emotions. We all felt blessed to have shared that time with the dolphins. (I was even told I did amazingly well for a first time snorkeler!)
The next two days, we had a repeat experience with dolphins. We even had the chance to swim with bottlenose dolphins, who are not as social with humans. They didn’t come quite as close to us, but we were able to see them feed on the ocean floor.
Aside from some sea sickness the first day, I felt incredibly alive out in the ocean and on a boat. Maybe it’s the Aquarius in me, but I always felt like I should have grown up on a beach or on a boat. Every night, as we all reflected on the day’s events, I would journal and chat with the other passengers. It became clear to me that I needed to write a novel based on this expedition. I plan to get started on it right away while I’m still bubbling from the high of it.
That week in beautiful Bimini, I not only made my dream come true, but I made new friends that love dolphins as much as I do. It made my decision not to bring a friend or a family member with me a smart one.
Magic exists in this world. Sometimes we’re just not paying attention. If dreams aren’t coming true for you, try to make them happen. Maybe my dolphin dream didn’t happen like I thought it would — holding onto a dorsal fin or getting a kiss from a bottlenose — but the reality was much better. It was authentic.
My motto has not changed. Dream big. Don’t let fear stand in your way!
Sandy Lo is a published author of five novels and is an accomplished entertainment journalist. She uses her love of music and the entertainment industry as inspiration for her novels. Her “Dream Catchers” book series has reached Amazon’s Top 100 Coming of Age list and “The Watch Dog” has made it in Top 10 Ghost Stories on Amazon’s Free Book List. In 2010, Sandy was listed as “50 Writers You Should Be Reading” by the Authors Show. Currently, Sandy resides in New York where she freelance writes for several publications and is working on a new novel.