A professional mermaid who could not swim when she first took on the role has saved a scuba diver’s life with CPR after finding him unconscious at sea.
Originally a dancer, Elle Jimenez, 33, of Miami, Florida, now works full time as a ‘mermaid’, performing aquatic shows and teaching people to swim with a monofin – or mermaid’s tail – and training them in vital safety and rescue skills.
Elle, who lives with her boyfriend, Darren Leonardi, 34 – who works with Elle to film underwater content, and their son, Oliver, 11, was swimming off Catalina Island, California, in October when she found the diver without a pulse and foaming at the mouth.
Springing into action with the help of her team, Elle towed the diver to shore where he was given CPR for 10 minutes before he started breathing again.
Elle said: “There is a misconception about mermaids, I don’t think people realise just how trained we are in lifesaving skills.
“I have never had to perform a real rescue before, only in practice drills, so for me, this incident solidified that our training is vital.”
She added: “I was very glad to hear that the diver is now okay.”
Elle first became a professional mermaid in 2016 after working as a performer.
She said: “I’ve always wanted to be on stage, dancing and acting. After high school, I went to a couple of dance companies and picked up work. I was even in a Kanye West and Kid Sister music video for the song Pro Nails.
She added: “I started performing as a background dancer at events in Miami, mostly corporate or weddings. We’d do Latin dancing and circus performing acts.”
But in 2016, one client asked Elle if she could perform as a mermaid for his daughter’s birthday party.
“I’d seen mermaids at parties before, they were always sat at the poolside, but this client wanted it to be realistic,” she said.
She added: “The only problem was that I couldn’t swim.
“But I’m not a person who believes in fears and obstacles so I booked swimming lessons in order to do the job.
“After that, I wanted to further my training and took on scuba diving lessons.”
Since then, Elle joined Padi, a diving organisation, as a mermaid instructor and now teaches monofin diving and swimming skills.
She said: “It’s great to be able to pass on safety and training skills and I travel all over the country for my job.
“That’s how I ended up being in California in October.”
It was during a work trip to Catalina Island on October 23 that Elle found an unconscious diver in the water.
She said: “I was doing an open water session with four students. Darren was with me as the underwater photographer, and I also had my safety diver Chin Burger.
“It’s a hotspot for diving so there were a lot of other people scuba diving in the area too.”
She added: “We were quite far from the shore when I surfaced and heard someone shouting for help.”
Elle recalled seeing two divers in distress.
She said: “I finned over to them with my team and could see that there was a third diver who was unconscious and foaming at the mouth.”
She added: “I suspected he had an air embolism, where air bubbles form in the blood vessels.
“I started removing his weights and equipment because it was making it difficult to keep him above the surface.
“I picked up the weights, which must have been about 35lb, and it immediately pulled me under. I had to let it go into the depths to stop myself from drowning.”
She added: “As a team, we towed the diver to the shore and started doing compressions.”
Elle said it was tense as they waited for the diver to regain consciousness.
She said: “He wasn’t breathing and he had no pulse. One of my students, who is a paramedic, was doing compressions for about 10 minutes but it felt like forever before he started breathing again.”
She added: “It was a few hours before he woke up and finding out that he was okay was such a relief.”
The diver, Pablo Aliva, was on holiday in Catalina Island from Argentina when he started struggling with his breathing equipment.
After being rescued by the mermaids, he was taken to a decompression chamber for treatment and has since recovered.
Elle said: “It’s amazing to know that he’s doing okay and the reaction from other people has been very nice.”
She said her son is also proud of her.
“He’s 11 so I think he finds a lot of the mermaid stuff embarrassing or cringy but he finds the rescue very cool,” she said.
She added: “It’s something he’s told his friends about and is proud of me for.
“The rescue has given a whole new meaning to the Padi programme because if I hadn’t been trained properly, I wouldn’t have been able to help the diver.
“I think people underestimate what it means to be a mermaid but we’re free divers and trained in sea rescue.
“I’m just so glad that the diver is okay.”