Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Day of Discovery

Bucs LB Ryan Nece recently took a break from football to try one of Florida’s unique opportunities: Swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove

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LB Ryan Nece got up close and personal with several Atlantic bottlenose dolphins on Father's Day

One little difference between tackling a running back and grabbing on to, say, a dolphin: The running back doesn't usually object to how hard you squeeze him.

Oh, and also, the running back isn't likely to weigh 500 pounds, nor is he capable of suddenly dragging you underwater.

Ryan Nece, a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tackles running backs for a living. Recently, however, he found himself with his arms wrapped around an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and he didn't get the suggested amount of pressure exactly right in his hug. The results were swift and surprising.

A little over a week ago, on Father's Day, Nece visited an enchanting place in Orlando called Discovery Cove, where ordinary people can do something rather extraordinary: Swim with the dolphins. While at the park, Nece gladly agreed to a publicity photo shoot. After all, that meant even more time with the dolphins.

This wasn't your ordinary photo shoot, however. Nece found that out when he tried to wrap up one of the lithe animals like, well, a Miami Dolphin.

"I was taking pictures with one of them and I didn't get the instructions of how to hold the dolphin exactly right," said Nece. "I squeezed too hard and the dolphin took off and dragged me right under the water. It was pretty awesome.

"Of course, right away the Discovery Cove people said, 'That was like Ricky Williams running away from you,' and I said, 'Okay, that's enough of that.'"

Nece's sudden dip was shocking but fun. The simple wonder of being up close to, being in actual physical contact with, these wonderful and very social creatures is the greatest draw of Discovery Cove, though the place has a full day's worth of attractions and activities. Nece first learned of the park two years ago when some of his family members visited, and he planned a trip this year to coincide with his little brother coming into town. Discovery Cove representatives rolled out the red carpet for Nece and his group and it proved to be a very memorable experience.

"The whole time, we were amazed," said Nece. "We felt like we were in another place, another world, just because of the service, the environment, everything was first class. The food! The food was great. We had a dinner and I think I ate for three people. I think I owe them a little bit for that. That part was amazing as well."

Visitors to Discovery Cove go for the dolphin encounter but also get an opportunity to snorkel around a large "coral reef," float along a tropical river, swim amid a group of sting rays, walk through an aviary and cavort in a resort pool. As Nece indicated, food and drink are also included, and the number of visitors to the park is limited each day in order to keep guests from being crowded or hurried.

Nece would definitely do it again.

"It was a great experience," he said. "To be able to swim with the dolphins and sting rays, and they had the coral reef there, too. That was pretty awesome. Really, it was just a great experience all around."

Guests at Discovery Cove amuse themselves at all the other park areas before reporting for their specific dolphin encounter time. After watching an informational video and donning vests or wetsuits, the guests are led down to the dolphin lagoon to meet the park's featured "employees."

The water in the lagoon is shockingly cold, but quickly forgotten as the dolphins swim up to meet each group. Guests are directed through a variety of interactions with the friendly creatures, from stroking their backs and fins to issuing simple commands. The thrilling finale is a ride out into the deep part of the water. Guests are instructed to get a grip on the dolphin's dorsal fin and one of his flippers and then simply hold on. The dolphin does the rest, dragging his new friend to the middle of the pool and back.

What becomes abundantly clear to each guest as he takes his turn is how strong these marine animals are. Nece will never encounter a running back like this.

"The power is unbelievable," he said. "Of course, each individual in our group is different and I was heavier than the rest of them. I was the last to go and as the dolphin took off I could feel him go down a little bit and realize, 'Oh, I've got to adjust.' And all of a sudden he came up out of the water, carrying me with him. It was no problem for him."

Discovery Cove photographers capture each guest's interaction with the dolphins on film for keepsakes, but Nece's memories of the visit will be just as lasting. Humans have long had a love affair with these personable animals, and Discovery Cove allows guests to feel that on an individual, up-close level. It is the best way to learn about these creatures.

"It's a totally different experience," said Nece. "For instance, I didn't realize that the dolphins all spoke and all had their own unique sounds. That's the kind of thing you find out during the encounter. It was amazing."

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