Ailing 7th grade cheerleader visits Newport Aquarium before becoming a Ben-Gal for a day

Arion and Destiny with Ric and Paula the penguin

Arion Smith (left) and Destiny Freeland (center) met Paula the penguin while learning about African penguins from Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Ric Urban.

NEWPORT, Ky.Newport Aquarium on Saturday morning provided an ill middle schooler from southern Ohio with a VIP tour and Penguin Encounter as part of her fun-filled weekend planned by a former Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleader.

Destiny Freeland, a seventh-grade cheerleader from Northwest Middle School in McDermott, Ohio, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, when she was 8 years old, undergoing many surgeries and treatments since. The years of battling cancer have taken Freeland’s ability to cheer and she attends school as her body permits.

Arion and Destiny with Ric in the shark tank

Northwest Middle School teacher Arion Smith (left) and Destiny Freeland watch sharks swim overhead with Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Ric Urban inside the tunnel of the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Ric Urban led Freeland and two of her teachers and cheerleading coaches, Arion Smith and Cathy Knauff, on a personalized tour of the facility, highlighted by hanging out with the Aquarium’s famous African penguins inside The Penguin House. Freeland’s mother was unable to accompany Destiny on the trip because she herself is also battling cancer.

Freeland’s tour of Newport Aquarium was part of a weekend trip to Cincinnati arranged by former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Lindsey Cole Vaughn, who cheered at neighboring Wheelersburg High School.

Once she learned of Freeland’s story through her former Wheelersburg H.S. cheerleading coaches, Vaughn immediately began planning a weekend to trip to Cincinnati for Freeland, capped off by attending the Bengals home game on Oct. 11 and meeting the Ben-Gals.

Arion Destiny and Cathy with Ric in the back

Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Office Ric Urban photobombs a picture of Arion Smith (left), Destiny Freeland (center) and Cathy Knauff.

Vaughn started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Freeland’s trip. On Sept. 30, Vaughn went on the Scott Sloan show on Cincinnati’s 700 WLW-AM to raise awareness and money for Freeland’s visit to Cincinnati. Vaughn said that she wanted to provide Freeland with some fun Cincinnati experiences during her time here, mentioning Newport Aquarium specifically.

Newport Aquarium employees caught wind of Vaughn’s interview on 700 WLW and called the radio station to inform Vaughn that the Northern Kentucky attraction would like to offer a VIP tour and Penguin Encounter to Freeland during her visit to Cincinna

The Hampton Inn & Suites Cincinnati/Uptown-University Area has offered Freeland a complimentary room and a few local restaurants are providing her with free meals during her trip to Cincinnati.

For more information on Newport Aquarium, visit or call toll free 800-406-FISH (3474).


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky jewel attraction is home to: The world’s first and only Shark Bridge; the world’s first Shark Ray Breeding Program; Mighty Mike – the biggest and baddest American alligator outside the state of Florida; the largest and most diverse collection of sharks in the Midwest; and one of the world’s largest and most diverse penguin exhibits. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444

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