That dream is coming true for them this summer.
The duo will don their fins as mythical creatures in Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies’ live mermaid show. Heather and Rebecca have been swimming almost as long as they’ve been walking — their mother Heidi is a swimming teacher and coach, so the sisters grew up at the pool.
“Before we even knew it was a possibility we used to play mermaids in the pool, we would tie regular fins together and swim like that,” Rebecca said.
They were both on Science Hill High School’s swim team and both made it to the state championship during their high school years. They discovered “mermaiding” a few years ago, and spent a summer working to save up for their silicone tails and monofins. They swam as mermaids recreationally for a few years before applying to the aquarium, where they will be doing several shows a week throughout the summer swimming with fish, including a few venomous species like Foxface Rabbitfish and Sohal tangs.
The sisters won’t be in any danger — the venomous fish are docile and are not a threat to their mythical tank mates. The sisters will spend this month honing their performance and learning about the different kinds of fish they’ll be swimming with before their debut after Memorial Day.
“We’ve never really swam in a tank with fish in it, it will be a little strange swimming in salt water and with fish so we’ll have to acclimate to that,” Heather said.
Even with years of training as swimmers, the sisters had to practice with a fabric tail for a couple of years before they were ready to become professional mermaids. Without the proper practice and training, mermaiding can be dangerous even for seasoned swimmers. The tails add 25 to 35 pounds to their bodies on land, but the silicone is neutral in water so it doesn’t weigh swimmers down.
Since swimming with a mermaid tail is so exerting, the sisters will have to time their performances so they can come up for air every minute or so. Since they will perform together, they’ll be able to trade places during their performance so one mermaid is down in the tank while the other snags a breath of air.
“This is a whole different body motion, you have to retrain your mind to get out of that super speed, competitive swimming style to a more slow, controlled mermaiding style,” Heather said. “You have to slow everything down to conserve your oxygen, you can’t move super fast underwater,” Rebecca added.
The sisters’ also have performer names and “mersonas,” Heather’s blue tail and sometimes-blue hair distinguishes her as Wynter, and Rebecca’s shimmery-gold tail marks her as Summer. In addition to dazzling audiences in the coral reef tank, the duo will be taking photos with aquarium guests.
Heather and Rebecca have also become part of a larger mermaiding community online. They keep tabs on national mermaiding conventions where hundreds of mermaids — and mermen — come together to swim in a flash of dazzling mermaid tails. Since picking up the hobby, the twins said they haven’t met anyone in the area with the hobby, but forums and other online communities have helped them connect with other mermaids across the world.
When they aren’t swimming together, the sisters are studying together. Last week, they finished out their first year at East Tennessee State University as biology majors, and both have their sights set on the University of Tennessee after they finish their undergraduate degrees to become exotic veterinarians. They’ll still be taking classes over the summer while transforming into mermaids on the weekends.
They will also be doing birthday parties over the summer and can be booked by emailing [email protected]
“It’s a lifelong dream come true,” Rebecca said.
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.