Blind Teens Get Up Close With Dolphins at Miami Seaquarium

Juan Paniagua's dolphin encounter didn't go as planned

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Juan Paniagua's dolphin encounter field trip to the Miami Seaquarium didn't go as planned. He and Emily Nostro talked about his visit to the marine mammal park. (Published Thursday, Jul 11, 2013)

    Juan Paniagua figures he knows what dolphins feel like.

    "Slimy," the 13-year-old said.

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    The student who goes by “J.P.” loves science and sci-fi novels, and wants to be an astrophysicist.

    He's a wisecracking teen who also wouldn't mind being a comic.

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    His dolphin encounter field trip to the Miami Seaquarium on Thursday didn't go as planned. When an animal trainer asked if he wanted to get into a splash fight with the mammal, he obliged.

    Then he got drenched.

    "Completely unfair!" J.P. shouted. "I demand a rematch!"

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    He demands a rematch because of what he calls his "tactical disadvantage."

    J.P. is completely blind. An acute cancer claimed his eyesight at the age of three.

    "My fingers and hands are my eyes," he said. "I've had 10 years to hone them," he chuckled.

    J.P. and more than a dozen other visually impaired teens and adults are learning to live independently thanks to Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.

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    "It's wonderful," said Emily Nostro, who helped guide J.P. to the dolphin lagoon.

    "By getting to touch the dolphin and learn a little bit about what the dolphin does and how it moves, that's so important for our students,” Nostro said.

    J.P. likes to push the envelope. After getting splashed, he'd prefer to tackle the dolphin.

    "If I would've been able to jump in now, that dolphin would've been mine," he said with a smile.

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    J.P. says some may call him crazy for aiming to be a blind astrophysicist. But he brushes that off.

    "After all we can do pretty much anything, just in different ways," he said.

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