I Believe in Mermaids

They arrive at the natatorium, one at a time, shaking the last of hurricane Matthew off umbrellas and raincoats, thankful to be at this place where the goal is to get wet, not stay dry. There are eight of them in all today, including the instructor, Doris Hammond, and this week’s assistant, Holly Woltz. This week, those in attendance are older than 40 – some several decades past 40 – though often youngsters join the group as well. While they come from different work experiences, these days they all have a common love, and that is to swim – but not simply to swim laps up and down the pool.

I Believe in Mermaids | Aiken Bella Magazine

They are The Mermaids, and they are synchronized swimmers.

Mermaid Mentor

Doris Hammond, a licensed counselor and mindfulness instructor in private practice, has an impressive resume. As a teacher, counselor, and cheerleader for folks who need any kind of support, Doris has lived all over the eastern United States, from Cincinnati, Ohio to Buffalo, New York to Flint, Michigan. She and her husband Ted lived in Aiken from 1989 until 2003, then moved to the Hilton Head area. Doris returned to Aiken in 2013 after the death of her husband.

Doris had performed synchronized swimming in high school in Cincinnati as a member of The Cokettes, high school girls from around the city, sponsored by Coca-Cola in Cincinnati. While living in Sun City, she worked as show director with a group of adult swimmers for the “Sun City Synchronettes.” The women loved it and so did Doris.

After returning to Aiken to live a few years ago, she approached Mila Padgett, director of USCA’s Wellness Center, and asked for help in setting up a synchronized swimming class. The university provided flyers, inviting everyone, no matter their age, and in March, 2015, the program began. Officially named “Aiken Aquatic Arts,” they call themselves “The Mermaids.”

The ladies meet on Saturday morning at the USCA Natatorium from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Attendance varies, but there are 13 of them in all, from age 12 to 72. This particular morning, after some practice strokes in the lanes, with help from Holly and Doris, they go over the routine they’ve been working on to the tune of Bloody Mary from the play South Pacific.

There are windmill strokes, a swimming technique called sculling, and special ways to move your hands through a stroke. It bears little resemblance to your kids’ swimming lessons and even less to Katie Ledecky’s swim for the gold in Rio. The strokes are purposeful and graceful, and sometimes interactive, more like a ballet.

 “Mermaids have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.”

– Anais Nin

The Mermaids class welcomes all swimmers of any age, although according to swimmer Holly Woltz, “It is not for those weak in body or mind.” You must be comfortable in deep water and be able to swim the length of the pool, using the front and back crawl, breast stroke, and side stroke. You should be able to float and to be relaxed in the water. The figures and strokes are easily taught, along with basic sculling.

“Be proud of your age,” Doris Hammond declares, at age 83. Clearly she is proud of her age, and she is willing to share her experiences, her energy, and her enthusiasm with anyone of any age. She is a living life lesson – in and out of the water.

To See the Mermaids

I Believe in Mermaids | Aiken Bella Magazine

If you’d like to see the Mermaids in action, perhaps to see if you would like to join them, drop by the USCA natatorium on the campus, on Saturday mornings at 10:30. You can wear your suit and give it a try, or just sit on the side and watch. Swimmers purchase a punch card for $30 that includes 6 classes. For more information, contact Kathy Modesitt at 803-514-2296 or mckmod127@gmail.com.


 Mermaids Set November Demonstration

The Mermaids will welcome all who are interested to attend a special class demonstration at
the USCA Natatorium on Saturday, November 19 at 10:30 a.m. The group’s second annual show is scheduled for April on a date to be announced.


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Susan Elder is a former elementary school teacher and garden writer. These days she spends her time babysitting for her adorable granddaughter.