CLEARWATER, Fla. — One of the child stars of the Dolphin Tale movie franchise released an emotional video tribute to Winter, who died Thursday at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Scroll down to watch the video or click here. (The video above is a separate obituary piece for Winter).
Cozi Zuehlsdorff, now 23, described playing Hazel Haskett on the big screen as the greatest honor of her life.
After filming wrapped up in Pinellas County, Zuehlsdorff spent more than 10 years as an ambassador for the marine animal hospital.
“I got to see firsthand all of you who loved her in a way that was deep," Zuehlsdorff told her followers in an Instagram video.
She described meeting people who told her they watched the Dolphin Tale movies during chemotherapy. The films were an inspiration, she said, for many people – including those with limb differences.
“If you found strength from Winter, and you’re feeling like you’re losing that strength right now in this moment, I just want to tell you something really important," Zuehlsdorff said Friday. "You may feel like Winter and her story and her inspiration gave you the strength to keep going, but what little Winter actually did was swim up next to you and show you the strength that you already had.”
Some of the children Zuehlsdorff spoke to about Winter's story over the years were ones brought to the aquarium through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She would videochat with kids who were too ill to visit.
“Because you love Winter, that makes you part of our Dolphin Tale family. And, just like Sawyer said: ‘Family is forever,'" Zuehlsdorff would tell them.
Sawyer, of course, was played by Nathan Gamble.
"This dolphin wasn’t even suppose to live. Normal procedure to losing a tail was dying," Gamble wrote in a tribute on Instagram.
But, as Gamble reminded readers, Winter fought and overcame every obstacle in front of her.
"During this continuous battle, she touched and inspired the lives of MILLIONS of people, and of course will continue to touch and inspire," Gamble wrote. "Winter has passed, but her legacy and her message of persevering during times of great pain will never be forgotten."
Gamble said he is devastated by Winter's passing.
"But I can’t help but feel grateful that this silly diva dolphin that I fell in love with was with us as long as she was," he added. "Also I don’t care what your theology is, I WILL SEE WINTER IN HEAVEN!"
Through tears, Zuehlsdorff thanked God for Winter and for her Dolphin Tale family.
“She was just as amazing as you think she was," Zuehlsdorff said.
The first Dolphin Tale film was released in 2011, with the sequel coming out in 2014. The franchise attracted major movie stars, including Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson.
Winter passed away in the arms of her caregivers, who had been working for days to save her life. She'd been battling gastrointestinal issues and was not responding well to treatment.