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The star of the show

Robyn Cox lets child pet beluga whale at SeaWorld San Antonio

Robyn Cox lets my daughter, Sara, pet Sikku, a beluga whale at SeaWorld San Antonio.

Strange how certain things stick with you when you can't remember who said them.

"Never expect a ‘thank you' from the subjects of your stories," warned one of my UT Arlington journalism professors about 20 years ago. It could have been Roy Hamric. Or the late Charles Arrendell. Or any of the others who imparted their wisdom to us budding writers.

Happily, the adage isn't always true.

This column a year ago talked about how Clay Gould's memory continues to inspire baseball player Daniel Ortmeier. Gould, the former UT Arlington infielder and coach for whom the University's baseball stadium is named, died of cancer in 2001 at age 29. Ortmeier, an outfielder with the San Francisco Giants, writes number 8 under the bill of his cap and circles it for emphasis. That was Gould's uniform number when he was Ortmeier's coach.

To me, the piece was a nice introduction to our cover story on ex-Mavericks in the major leagues. But to the Gould family, it was much more. First came an e-mail from Clay's father, Dan, then one from his mother, Sherry, then his sister, Robyn. All said how proud they were of Clay and how comforting it is that others still remember him.

"Thank you for your kindness," Robyn's e-mail read. "And please, if you are ever in the San Antonio area and wish to meet some of SeaWorld's animals, don't hesitate to contact me." Signed, "Robyn Gould (UTA grad, 12/96)."

I asked what she did at SeaWorld. When she replied that she works with beluga whales and dolphins, my editor's hat flipped like, well, Flipper. (For the record, the 1960s TV program isn't among her favorites.) As the father of a kindergartner, I was even more excited.

When we visited the park in early November, I had never met Robyn. As we watched the Viva! show, I tried to guess which of the five trainers she was. Some spent most of their time directing the animals from a side stage. Others occupied center stage but had secondary roles. One did the cool tricks like riding on the beluga's back and somersaulting off its head.

After the show, Robyn introduced us to the animals. She told us their names, how much they weigh, how long they live, what they like and don't like. She showed us their teeth and let us throw rubber balls to the dolphins. We even got to pet Sikku, one of the belugas.

But I still wasn't sure about her role in Viva! and, momentarily engulfed by marine mammal mania, I forgot to ask. Only one solution: Return to Beluga Stadium for the 1:30 show. In a couple of minutes, we had our answer. She was the star.

Much like her brother had been on the baseball field.

"My brother was always a hero to me," Robyn said. "We were both proud of each other and the fact that we were able to accomplish our dream careers."

Their alma mater is proud, too.

Mark Permenter

Letters to the editor: utamagazine@uta.edu

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