LITHIA - A rule against fins in some FishHawk community pools is making it hard for a woman in a mermaid suit to find a place to swim.
After being banned from wearing an intricate, eye-catching silicon tail at one of her local pools last week, Jenna Conti, "The FishHawk Mermaid," said she is not about to give up her quest to entertain children.
"This isn't as much about fighting against the neighborhood as it is fighting for the kids," said Conti, a hairstylist and mother, who declined to give her age.
So far, Conti - who performs under the mermaid name "Eden Sirčne" - has been to two community board meetings to plead her case.
Conti was asked to leave the pool at the Aquatic Club of FishHawk Ranch last week because of the no-fin rule. The rule also prohibits the use of goggles and swim masks unless swimmers are taking part in a class.
On Monday, Conti met with the FishHawk Community Development District I board, which voted to keep her out of the pool based on the policy. A meeting the next day with the District II board proved somewhat more fruitful and was attended by a handful of vocal supporters.
"This can be a unique and beautiful attraction," said Bill Sperling, a FishHawk resident who attended Tuesday's meeting with his daughter, Michaela. "FishHawk can either be known as the community that banned the mermaid or the community that has a mermaid."
Conti first began wearing the tail at the pool in the FishHawk Ridge community, where she has lived for more than two years. A fellow resident suggested she take her mermaid tail to the public pool at the Aquatic Club.
Conti said she spent about six hours at the Aquatic Club pool after getting a go-ahead from two staff members. She scheduled another appearance for a few days later and announced it on the FishHawk Area Neighborhood page.
"I got there at around 8 a.m., and there were already lots of kids waiting for me," Conti said. "That's when I was told about the 'no fins' policy."
Conti brought the tail with her to Tuesday's community district board meeting and maintains the appendage is no safety hazard. Board members expressed liability concerns, but seemed open to working with Conti on some sort of arrangement.
Dawn Turner, board vice chairwoman proposed having Conti appear at the pool as part of a scheduled special event, but noted the events calendar for the rest of 2013 is booked.
The board also proposed that Conti apply as a vendor, complete with insurance and a business license. But she's not interested.
"When they started talking about working as a vendor, it made me a little sad," Conti said. "I never did this wanting to make money."
Bob Abruzzese - who created and operates the FishHawk Area Neighborhood Facebook page - said Conti introduced herself to the community on his page.
Most of the comments were positive, but some had doubts about the motives of Conti, who is the mother of a 10-year-old boy, and stepmother of a 17-year-old boy.
"You don't have to worry about her," said Abruzzese. "She does this for the kids."
Conti has received offers to perform at private gatherings in Miami and California, as well as interest from the Wild Things Zoo in Dade City. Supporters from the United Kingdom and Japan have sent her messages.
One comment that stuck with Conti was a request for an appearance from a mother with a brain tumor. Conti could relate: seven years ago, she temporarily lost the use of her legs due to a brain tumor and had to learn how to walk again.
"The negative messages made me want to prove to people that they're not right about me," she said of her motivation for challenging the "no fins" policy.
For now, Conti said she will continue to weigh her options and work with the people at FishHawk to reach an agreement.
On Wednesday night, she posted a message on her Facebook page for the children who fear they may never get to swim with a mermaid.
"I want to make a guarantee ... I'm not leaving kids!! Little Mers, pirates, sailors, dreamers and little fishes ... I have not been scared away and we will have our adventures and swim soon! Hang in there I am working things out .... Promise."