A mermaid's tale

01:43, Jan 31 2009
TALE TO TELL: Double amputee Nadya Vessey will soon add power to her Herne Bay dips when she's fitted with a mermaid-style tail.

Double amputee Nadya Vessey is about to become New Zealand's first mermaid.

The keen Auckland swimmer will soon be fitted with a mermaid-style tail made by special effects company Weta Workshop, the creative minds made internationally famous for their work on Lord of the Rings and King Kong.

Vessey was born with a condition that meant her legs would never develop properly, but began swimming after she had her first leg amputated at seven. Despite having her other leg amputated at 16, she swam competitively in high school and now swims as often as she can.

The tail will be moulded on to a pair of wetsuit shorts to make it easy to put on and take off. Vessey says it will allow her to propel herself through the water with an undulating movement as if she was a mermaid.

"I'm thinking I'll power on a bit with it, so that will be great."

Vessey says she's even thinking of completing the swimming section of a triathlon, to "warrant" having the tail.


"I thought rather than just having it as a plaything, I would take it further." Vessey, who is in her 50s, was inspired to get a tail a few summers ago after an encounter at the beach.

"A little boy came up and started asking all the `why' questions about my legs (she was removing her prosthetic legs)," she says.

Rather than having to go through the logistics of amputation with a four-year-old, Vessey said: "Do you know about the Little Mermaid?

"He said he did, so I told him: `Well I'm a mermaid'."

Then she came across Weta's prosthetic department one night while surfing the internet.

She decided to email them her idea about a tail "just to put the idea out there" and, much to her surprise, their reply was immediate.

Weta was excited about the challenge, Vessey says, and offered to donate its staff time and expertise to make the tail if Vessey could cover the costs of the materials, which she was able to do with a grant of $2500 from the Kerr-Taylor Foundation Trust.

Vessey's "flippant" idea was beginning to turn into a reality and work on the tail began at the start of the year.

"I began to feel a bit embarrassed about it. But then everybody else got so excited so I thought, `Oh, I'll just go with it and see what happens'."

Vessey says she asked Weta to make the tail practical and beautiful.

They told me not to worry that they would even put scales on it, Vessey says.

"So I really have no idea what to expect but it's going to be fun."

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