By Ashley Benkarski

MURFREESBORO, TN — Arikah Nash is a local entrepreneur with a bubbly personality, a love for performance and a passion for mental and physical health.

Add in a love for water, mermaids and fantastic acts of aerial entertainment and you have her brainchild, Mercademy, a three-month program at Murfreesboro’s Beyond Aquatics that encourages patrons to gain confidence in their swimming skills while providing a fun and unique experience that allows them to live out the dream of being a mermaid. 

Participants get to put on mermaid tails and are taught to swim just like their underwater friends, learning different tricks as they progress and find their inner “mersona” while staying fit, Nash said.

The program was founded after Aquamermaid, her first foray into helping people learn to swim, was impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and she had to suspend the program. Nash met Beyond Aquatics owner Michael Burrows through a mutual friend she bumped into at a protest for masks for healthcare workers. The two found that while they have vastly different life experiences, they both held a passion for fitness and health education. Combining their interests and strengths, they’re giving Murfreesboro a unique and inclusive place to care for their physical and mental health. There are classes for autistic children, and Nash said she sees many adults who come to get over the mental block of fear that keeps them out of the water. “Don’t focus on the fear, focus on the goal,” Nash said. “It can be something not for the self but for the safety of others.”

Nash said she wanted the African American community to know that “they are not forgotten,” referring to the disparity in drowning deaths that occur due to residual effects of segregation, as most Black Americans were denied access to public swimming facilities for decades.

She and Burrows would like to see Beyond Aquatics become a place of sanctuary and positive energy for the community, especially during a time of isolation and worry. 

“We start out with safety here,” Burrows said. Currently no groups exceeding ten people are allowed due to coronavirus restrictions, bathrooms are private and the facility and equipment get a thorough cleaning after customer visits. 

Participants in Mercademy begin their sessions with stretching and everyone gets a swimming buddy as they get used to the tails. Swimmers learn the concepts of environmental and situational awareness as they get personalized instruction.

It takes about five hours on average for a child to grasp the concept of swimming.

There are many benefits to aquatherapy, said Burrows, including gaining muscle strength. It’s also a form of low-impact exercise that burns about 40 percent more calories than nonwater-based activity and the pressure of the water improves blood circulation, making it a great way for people with illnesses such as diabetes or those going through rehabilitation due to an injury to achieve better health.

Beyond Aquatics is looking for volunteers and investors for their programs, including Mercademy. For more information about aquatherapy, Beyond Aquatics facility and the programs it offers, visit or call 615-962-9500.