Killer whale trainer Laura Surovik tells Russ Bravo that Seaworld's new show Believe brings her faith and her work together in glorious symmetry
Laura Surovik's day job might look a little dangerous to you and me - but to her it's just a matter of faith.
And when you're swimming and performing routines with killer whales weighing up to four and half tons, faith and trust is something you can't do without ...
Laura's a Christian who has spent the last 20 years or so of her life working with killer whales at Seaworld in Orlando - an adventure she describes as "one of God's greatest gifts to me".
She found a vibrant faith in Christ after being invited along to an Assemblies of God church when she was 17, attracted by the lively worship.
"The pastor asked: 'Would you like to know Jesus and have a real relationship with Christ?' Growing up in the Catholic Church no-one had ever asked me that. For me, what I was involved in was a ritual, rather than a relationship.
"It was the defining moment in my life - and since then God's taken me on a fantastic journey. The Seaworld part of my journey has been one of God's greatest gifts."
How did it come about?
"I was studying to be a landscape gardener - took a year off, and it turned into two and half years. I'd grown up with four brothers, and I was always competitive, loved sports, fitness and bodybuilding. I was working as a flight attendant and one of my friends suggested I tried out for a job at Seaworld - when I got in, I felt like it was a destiny for me."
Throwing herself into a physically demanding job, Laura discovered a real affinity with the big stars at Seaworld - the killer whales.
"The whales are one of God's most beautiful gifts to me. Every time, I dive straight into the heart of a miracle - feeling that this is so much bigger than me.
"The relationship is one of love between the whale and the trainer - typified by understanding and trust. Effective love casts out all fear - so I work in confident humility. You're confident in your relationship, but you have to have respect and humility. It parallels the Christian life."
And Laura's faith and 21-year passion for killer whales have been especially woven together in Seaworld's new show, Believe.
"This year has been the year God has brought it to fulfilment for me. Believe is a show about hope - you could be any age and enjoy it. Our hope is that our audience will come in and go out different. The message of love and hope is so universal - it can minister to anyone."
Visibly moved as she tells stories of how the whales and the show have given fresh hope to youngsters from troubled backgrounds ("One little 8-year-old asked: 'Does Shamu believe in me?'") and older folk facing terminal illness, Laura is convinced that God is working in people's lives through the experience.
"Beverley, who we called the Believe lady, had cancer and just kept coming back. It brought a lot of joy to her in a really tough time. For me as a Christian, it really is a God thing."
The show is a spectacular 25-minute experience, scored by Lion King composer Christopher Warne. Four 20-foot screens flank a giant tailfin in the 5,500 seat Shamu Stadium. "By the end of the show, it's a mountain-top experience,” says Laura.
And for those who argue that keeping a few of these beautiful creatures in captivity is cruel, Laura counters: "I believe with all my heart that our whales are happy and at peace. I care for them like I do for my children - I have two children at school and eight more in the pool! Educational tours are dedicated to the marine life at the park - you can get up close and see and learn. We're serving a great purpose."
For someone with a highly unusual job, she's refreshingly down to earth: "We are ordinary people made extraordinary by the whales."
Find out more at www.shamu.com
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