Story of a...Mermaid
When MELISSA DAWN, 30, transforms into Mermaid Melissa, she will take your breath away.
Norma Lopez Molina
“Most little girls wish they were princesses. I, on the other hand, spent endless hours after school in my pool imagining I was in the ocean exploring the sea, pretending to swim with marine mammals or even becoming one. My friends and family would call me ‘fish,’ ‘dolphin girl’ or ‘mermaid.’’’
As Mermaid Melissa, she has her own company and aquatic team that puts on a variety of underwater shows. “The choreographed, synchronized movements are often put to music, and I bring along performers who are trained to tell a story in the water. The shows are at an underwater window 20 feet or more down. There are no breathing tubes, no scuba gear, no nose plugs or goggles.’’
“My best-known performances have been not just as a mermaid but also as a professional free diver, killer whale trainer and dolphin trainer’’ at SeaWorld Orlando. Melissa, who grew up in St. Augustine but now lives in Orlando, still performs as a pearl diver at SeaWorld a couple of days a week.
“My longest breath-hold recorded, which I put up on YouTube, is 4 minutes 18 seconds. I’ve gone 5 minutes only once and felt any longer would be pushing it past what my body felt comfortable with and safe to achieve. This isn’t something I recommend others trying. It came with a lifetime of free-diving skills that allows me to now slow my heart rate when I hit the water.’’
“I have spent thousands of dollars on each of my four mermaid tails and often refer to them as works of art. My tails weigh between 40 and 65 pounds, not including the weights I add to them in saltwater. The [silicone] materials are strong to make the tails last long. I had them custom-made to my body.’’
“It’s always good to have a healthy respect for the animals you swim with. Killer whales are much more intimidating due to their social ranking behaviors than sharks. Sharks are more predictable and, if fed well, they are far less interested in something too big to eat.’’
“The biggest fear I have in the ocean is of jellyfish. Once I was swimming and found myself in a cloud of thousands of baby thimble jellyfish and was covered waist to neck in stinging bumps that resulted in three weeks of pure itching torture. The doctor couldn’t understand why I wasn’t stung below the waist, and when I told her I was wearing a mermaid tail for a video shoot, her eyes bulged out of her head.’’
“I love surrounding myself with inspiring people who challenge me to do more and be a better person. As much as it would be amazing to meet ‘Aquaman’ or a ‘merman,’ something tells me they might have a hard time keeping up with the pace I swim at.”