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COLUMBIA CITY â€” Katrina Simpkins, a young celebrity from Columbia City, was on hand to introduce the movie, â€śDolphin Tale,â€ť at Mary Raber Elementary Schoolâ€™s movie night Friday.
Katrina is well known for her connections to Winter, the dolphin that inspired the movie â€śDolphin Tale,â€ť released in 2011 by Warner Brothers.
Katrina was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a birth defect in which the hip end of the thigh bone does not develop. The condition can vary in its severity, but for Katrina, where her right knee would normally be is instead her foot. A surgery at age 1 turned her foot backward so that her ankle can act as a knee joint. Since then, she has relied on prosthetic legs in order to walk.
When Katrina happened to meet Winter on a family vacation to a Florida aquarium, Katrina said Winter and her met each otherâ€™s eyes and things changed.
Winter and Katrina had something in common. Winter, a bottlenose dolphin, lost her tail and nearly died when she was entangled in rope from a crab trap, but was rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla., where she received a revolutionary prosthetic tail.
The bond over being different turned Katrinaâ€™s depressed and downhearted outlook on life into a whirlwind experience that would tell herâ€™s and Winterâ€™s story.
On Friday, in front of a group of elementary students, Katrina not only introduced the movie, but encouraged the children to not be afraid to be different.
This is a message Katrina delivers to audiences all over the country. Now, after working with Winter, Katrina stands on a platform of courage in order to help others embrace their true selves, even in the face of disabilities or differences.
â€śAll the kids I inspire make this worth it, â€ś Katrina said. â€śI try to teach them that its not scary to be different and for me, itâ€™s not scary to be in a prosthesis.â€ť
Katrina is 13 and is home-schooled. Her mother, Marty, encourages the travel and the opportunities Katrina has to share her story.
As a teenager, Katrina, suited with her prosthesis, is faced with the transition that comes with the teen years. But she said she does not see this as a time of awkwardness, rather, she chooses to focus on who she is, not what she looks like.
This is a timely message for teen girls as the pressure to conform and perform is at its highest.
â€śI try to tell girls to put as much beauty on the inside as they do the outside,â€ť Katrina said. â€śI want them to focus on their individual personalities.â€ť
Marty has tried to instill the idea in Katrina that â€śeach one of us has a purpose. Itâ€™s not about an identity and itâ€™s not about what you look like.â€ť
The life lesson Katrina has learned through this encounter with a dolphin is that she can choose to use her prosthesis as a way to open doors to reach others.
â€śI meet people all over the country and I get to tell them about Winter and answer their questions,â€ť said Katrina. But Marty sees there is more to the story.
â€śI think we are going to see Katrina telling her own story separate from Winterâ€™s,â€ť Marty said. â€śAlthough she will always have that special connection with Winter, I believe her own life experiences are going to be valuable and people will want to know more about her.â€ť
Katrina sees herself as a spokesperson for self-esteem. I want people to be secure in themselves, learn to love their true person and develop confidence no matter what the world tries to tell them.â€ť
Here at home, Katrina is a part of Whitley County Dazzlers, a cheerleading group designed for special needs and disabilities. She said being in the group is just another way to prove she is â€śnormalâ€ť and can do anything she wants to work toward. One of those things she is working for, is the chance to take horseback riding lessons and learn how to barrel race.
A new book detailing Katrinaâ€™s story, entitled â€śKatrina and Winter: Partners in Courage,â€ť is available through Amazon.com and is written by Nancy Stewart.