In September 2018, Jacky Howgate was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Fortunately, it wasn’t cancerous, and since then Jacky has undergone surgery and rehabilitation to help her on the long road back to full health. Not being able to continue as a French teacher for the time being, she threw herself into exercising to help with her mental and physical health, and on January 1 this year she sat down to knuckle out some New Year’s resolutions.
“I asked myself, over my 14 years of being in Australia, what has always been the place that has made me feel like home – and it was the beach,” Jacky said. “I decided to try for a daily beach visit. That day I happened to see a post on Facebook by Mornington Inspiring Ladies to be Fabulous – MILF. A lady in Frankston had pledged to go daily to Frankston beach and partake in cold water therapy. I joined her and her small group the next day and we all held hands and went into the water up to our waist. We counted ‘one, two, three’ and then we ducked under the water a few times between chatting and laughing over 15 minutes.”
Jacky decided to create her own group closer to home so she posted in MILF asking for others to join her at Fishermans beach at 7am the next day. One by one the group grew, and at five members Jacky launched her own private Facebook group, Mornington Morning Mermaids. They met Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and gradually the group grew to about 30 members in the water on any given day and 60 or more in the Facebook group. Ladies of all ages, fitness levels and backgrounds brave the water. There are physical benefits, and members are welcome to swim, dip, float, walk in the water, or try aqua aerobics – no pressure, no judgement.
“It’s grown with word of mouth and Facebook posts. One lady saw us having a coffee afterwards to warm up and she said, ‘You all look so happy. I want what you’re all on!’ Now she joins us every time.”
This pod of mermaids has collected mermaid paraphernalia, had Jacky arrive dressed as a mermaid and welcomed a plush mermaid toy as their mascot – named Maribel, a name with a French origin meaning ‘star of the sea’ and ‘beautiful’ and particularly appropriate given Jacky’s background as a French teacher. This activity is an empowering way to start the day and improve the lives of Jacky and her merry mermaids. It’s now been almost three months and the mermaids are set to continue through the winter – with the addition of a few wetsuits – and Jacky takes a photograph at each meet-up before they swim because her short-term memory has been slightly affected since her tumour, and photographs help in recalling names. She also believes that it is important to learn each mermaid’s name so that everyone feels included and welcome, and each mermaid is encouraged to stand proudly in bathers. This inclusiveness was especially apparent on International Women’s Day when a large group gathered on the beach, had a dip and enjoyed breakfast and coffee together afterwards.
“I’d forgotten about me, how I was prior to my surgery. I’m confident again and full of life – something I’d forgotten during the recovery process. Other ladies have shared amazing stories about why they keep coming back to the beach too. Women connecting with women on any level and with nature – that’s who we are.”
It’s beyond anything that Jacky ever imagined it would be. She didn’t set out to start a group as powerful as this one, but she wouldn’t trade the support, friendship, laughter and camaraderie for anything. Jacky and her mermaids can’t wait to see you at their next plunge in the bay.