Though they’re thousands of miles apart, an Army couple got the surprise of a lifetime at SeaWorld on Monday.
Madison Hardy was newly married and feeling lonely. Her Army infantryman husband, Colt, had unexpectedly been deployed to the Middle East in late December. Four weeks later she learned she was pregnant. The 21 year old felt isolated at her new home at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, five hours from her close-knit family in Missouri, and was rarely able to speak to Colt.
Madison’s mom, Serenity Bendon, 42, has traveled to Fort Campbell to accompany Madison to every pre-natal exam. At her 22-week ultrasound when the sex of the baby was discovered, Madison told the technician she didn’t want to know. Her mother was handed the test results. Madison had wanted a sex reveal party to be like the events she’d seen on television — she just didn’t realize what a surprise her mother would create.
On Monday, beneath the hot Florida sun, Hardy was on a private, backstage tour at SeaWorld in Orlando’s Shamu Stadium. She saw killer whales in a tank up close with her parents and other family members. Serenity had told Madison the trip was to lift her spirits, to get away for awhile.
A trainer pulled Hardy aside and Skyped in Colt, 21, on an iPad. The trainer said, “We are going to find out the gender of your child today with our killer whales.”
On a giant tank were painted in white the words “boy” and “girl.” A female killer whale inside, a mom of seven named Katina, was asked what the sex of the couple’s child was.
The orca floated to the glass side and kissed “girl” with her nose. “I wanted a girl,” Madison yelled, smiling. Pink jello, which the whales enjoy as a treat, was thrown in the tank to celebrate.
“I am still in shock,” said Hardy after the reveal. “I knew we were coming to SeaWorld but I didn’t know my mom was going to do all this. She had me fooled. I thought I was going to get a cake.”
The moment was made even more special because Colt was included. “He hasn’t been able to be a part of anything,” Hardy said. “I am so grateful for what they did to make this possible.” (SeaWorld now offers U.S. military veterans and their families free admission through July 15.)
The couple has known each other since sixth grade, growing up in Willow Springs, Missouri. They became best friends, but never dated. It was only after Colt enlisted in the Army that the pair realized how special their bond was. On a trip home, “Colt came straight to Madison and told her he never wanted to be apart from her again,” grandmother-to-be Bendon says.
He proposed on July 6 and the couple married a month later on Aug. 4. By September, the pair had moved into their own apartment at Fort Campbell, not expecting Colt to be deployed as quickly as he was on Dec. 27.
“I knew she was down and struggling with being alone,” says Bendon. “I said, ‘Let’s get her out of here and get her to Orlando.’ “