Monday, July 23, 2018
News Roundup

Dozens of hopefuls brave cold during Weeki Wachee mermaid auditions

WEEKI WACHEE — At 7 a.m. on Saturday, Lydia Byrd texted her aunt Mista Whitson, "You guys awake?"

Byrd, 22, was ready.

The North Carolina natives flew to Florida for one reason: to watch Byrd try and become a Weeki Wachee mermaid.

"She has wanted to be a mermaid her whole life," Whitson laughed. "This is about as close as she can get."

Byrd was among dozens of women who braved the cold Saturday for the first part of tryouts for the world-famous mermaid squad at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

This year, officials said the park had its highest number of people sign up for auditions. They hoped to find eight new mermaids who will perform underwater year-round in 72-degree spring-fed water from the head of the Weeki Wachee River.

About 250 women planned to audition, according to park spokesman John Athanason.

Then on Friday, Athanason said he heard reports that the weather would be "a little cooler than normal." But he did not expect the chill that came Saturday.

"The difference between (Friday’s) weather and (Saturday’s) weather is two different things," Athanason said. "Will all 250 come? Who knows. Some may walk out of their house and be like, ‘I’m going back to bed.’

"It makes you feel good that people want to be a part of something that’s special, and that’s this park."

As it turns out, about 55 women showed up in the 52-degree weather.

Those who auditioned completed a timed, 300-yard endurance swim, where they swam both with and against the water’s current. Those who finished then had to tread water for 10 minutes.

But the cold did not deter Byrd — or the other women who shivered their way through the paces.

Some women donned mermaid tattoos and others wore bathing suits with scales. Many of them kept moving to keep warm.

After the endurance swim, groups sat huddled, bundled in brightly colored towels, goosebumps speckling their legs. The timed swim was hard, they said to each other.

"Dude, it was really hard," said Taylor Sekulski, 20. "I kept asking myself, ‘How am I gonna get through this?’?"

Her answer?

"I have always wanted to be a mermaid," said Sekulski, who grew up five minutes from the park in Weeki Wachee. "I have pictures, like when I used to dress up as a little girl. I used to watch the show all the time."

After Whitson saw the Weeki Wachee Mermaids two years ago, she told Byrd, "When you finish college, you need to do something cool like this." Byrd, Whitson said, has loved mermaids "since she was a little girl."

"I’ll do whatever I can to do (become a mermaid)," Byrd said. "It’s so much fun."

Julia Tumamiszwili, a current mermaid, encouraged mermaids Saturday to "never quit."

"It’s not like being on land at all. It’s like being in a completely different world," Tumamiszwili said. "You’re going to come through challenges even after you get hired, but (performing underwater) is a very mental thing."

Athanason said more than more than 40 women will continue to the second round, including Byrd. Successful mermaid-hopefuls will come back for an underwater audition with the theater manager, he said. That audition date has not been set.

The mermaid show debuted on Oct. 13, 1947, in the theater built of limestone and submerged 6 feet below the surface.

Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at tyjohnson@tampabay.com. Follow @tylisajohnson.

     
             
Comments
Waitress on taking down man who groped her: ‘We deal with a lot’

Waitress on taking down man who groped her: ‘We deal with a lot’

It was almost 11 p.m., and Emelia Holden was finishing up her shift as a server at a Savannah, Ga., pizzeria when she felt a hand on her backside.She reacted immediately, yanking the man backward by his red shirt as he tried to walk away and wrapping...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Police: 1 injured in building collapse on Miami Beach

Police: 1 injured in building collapse on Miami Beach

MIAMI BEACH — Police say a 12-story building on Miami Beach that was slated to be torn down has collapsed, injuring one person. Miami Beach police officials tweeted that the victim was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Monday morning. A ...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Swimmer Ryan Lochte suspended until July 2019 for use of IV

Swimmer Ryan Lochte suspended until July 2019 for use of IV

FORT LAUDERDALE — Ryan Lochte posted a photo for the world to see, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency noticed. It got him suspended — again. The longtime U.S. swimming star has been banned from competition until July 2019, which means the 12-time Olympi...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Co-founder of Liturgical Folk: ‘We want our music to be a fire starter’

Co-founder of Liturgical Folk: ‘We want our music to be a fire starter’

Ryan Flanigan, co-founder of the Anglican music project Liturgical Folk, writes songs with two groups of people in mind — the old and the young."When I write or sing in front of a church, they are who I am looking at," Flanigan, 38, said. "If a song ...
Updated: 22 minutes ago

Pasco Religion Calendar for July 27

Religion CalendarGenerations Christian Church, 1540 Little Road, Odessa, is collecting school supplies to fill backpacks for students in need. Donations are needed by Aug. 5. Contact the church for a list of needed items. For more information, visit ...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Restaurant review: Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s open themed spots in downtown St. Petersburg, and one fares slightly better so far

Restaurant review: Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s open themed spots in downtown St. Petersburg, and one fares slightly better so far

ST. PETERSBURG - Restaurants with heavy theming can go awry in a number of ways: too much, not enough, mixed messages, ham-fisted devotion to cliches, etc. It can be a runaway train that unduly influences the food, music, architecture, server uniform...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
A flying umbrella injures a second beach-goer in a week

A flying umbrella injures a second beach-goer in a week

A portion of an aluminum beach umbrella was driven entirely through a 67-year-old woman’s ankle after it went airborne at a beach in New Jersey last week.The July 16 event was heralded as a freak accident.RELATED: London woman impaled by beach umbrel...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Florida insider poll: nominees for governor will be ... ; Hillsborough sheriff loosens rules for new hires; and more

Top 5 at noon: Florida insider poll: nominees for governor will be ... ; Hillsborough sheriff loosens rules for new hires; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:FLORIDA INSIDER POLL: NOMINEES FOR GOVERNOR WILL BE ...Florida’s busiest election cycle in decades is shaped above all by one guy, Donald Trump. That’s the clear consensus of more than 220 lo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The man shot by a Lakeland store clerk after stealing $36 worth of beer has died

The man shot by a Lakeland store clerk after stealing $36 worth of beer has died

A man who was shot by a convenience store clerk as he stole $36 in beer has died, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office reports. Rennie Defoe, Jr. died at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center on Saturday afternoon. The clerk who shot him, Mehedeun Hasa...
Updated: 1 hour ago