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San Clemente Journal

Mermaid Elseanna, Inspiring Special Needs Children

Nov 29, 2017 06:24PM ● By Rebecca Parsons

Mermaid Elseanna poses with Jim Holden of Fish for Life at a PIerPride fundraiser.

by Rebecca Parsons 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a mermaid is “a fabled marine creature with the head and upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish.” But for Elizabeth Strother a mermaid is so much more—it’s a reality, a dream, a career, a passion, an escape, and a tool for helping others.

Like many children, Strother spent most of her childhood feeling like she didn’t fit in. When she began exhibiting signs of social and developmental challenges, her parents took her to the doctor in search of some answers. Not much was known about developmental
disorders at the time and doctors didn’t know what category to file Strother under, other than labelling her with ADHD and dyslexia. They broke the news to her family that Elizabeth would likely never be a normally functioning member of society.

Thus Strother spent much of her childhood feeling misunderstood, struggling through school, battling anxiety and depression, and feeling socially awkward. She only found joy swimming in her backyard pool in Redlands, California and through summer trips to the beach with her family. 
“Being in the water was my escape from the world. Something about being in the water was healing to me,” Strother recalls. “Then Disney’s The Little Mermaid came out and I was never the same again. I related to this character who didn’t feel like she belonged, didn’t feel connected, and who was different from everyone she knew.”

Although her challenges didn’t evaporate, Strother found a new sense of identity through playing the role of this mythological creature she so identified with. She played mermaid with her cousins and friends and even taught herself to swim with her legs together in the same fashion as her favorite heroine.

Strother attended school for emotionally and behaviorally challenged children. Due to her cheerful and outgoing personality, the staff would pair her with shy and quiet children so she could help them feel comfortable and give them the opportunity to open up. It was then that Strother decided that she wanted to work with children. She related to feeling misunderstood and wanted to spend her adult life helping children know that they were loved and help them gain self-confidence.

Strother surpassed doctor’s expectation and attended college, earning a bachelor’s degree in Applied Behavioral Science and Sociology. Through her studies, she learned about socio-emotional development and developmental delays, bringing light to some of the challenges she faced as a child. 

In 2012, Strother learned about the existence of professional mermaids. 
“I decided then that I also wanted to be a professional mermaid,” Strother says. “Each of the professional mermaids has a cause they promote awareness for; from keeping our oceans clean to encouraging children to express their talents. I had found a unique way to merge my passion for mermaids by helping special needs children.”

The aspiring mermaid quickly set to work. First she crafted her own fabric tail, then she purchased a monofin, and eventually she bought a custom-made silicon tail. She named herself Elseanna and crafted a story about a girl who washed up on the beach with no memory, only to be taken in and raised by an adopted family. She spent her childhood feeling different and misunderstood, until one day she discovers that she is actually a mermaid.

In 2015, Strother made her debut as Elseanna Mermaid, appearing at community events in Orange County. She also enrolled in multiple adaptive aquatics courses and became a special needs swim instructor.
Now, Strother works as an aquatic coach at R.H. Dana Elementary Exceptional Needs Facility as well as offering private swim lessons. She appears as Mermaid Elseanna at birthday parties, community events, and promotional events throughout Orange County, but her personal favorite is the Fish for Life event. The event takes special needs children out for half day fishing trips and oftentimes a mermaid will magically swim by or appear on the boat to accompany them on their trip.

“Who gets to live their childhood fantasy swimming in the ocean as a mermaid to spread joy and smiles to these children?” Strother asks. “In general, this career is a dream come true. On so many levels.”

In addition to swim lessons and mermaid appearances, Strother also makes mermaid-inspired jewelry to help raise funds for the licenses and permits required for her business. Her wire-wrapped sea-glass necklaces, bracelets and earrings are available at Scott Shipley’s place at the end of the San Clemente pier as well as at Van Lipp & Carter, located on Del Mar.
Strother loves her job and is grateful for the challenges she faced as a child, because they allowed her to understand and help so many other children as result
“Always be yourself,” she advises children with big dreams. “Never be ashamed of the way that God made you, because he made you with a purpose. We all have our parts to play in life to make the world around us better for others. What is yours?”

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