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Pediatric cancer survivor becomes a mermaid for life

First, Amelia Collins used her dream of being a mermaid to help her body recover from the chemotherapy treatments she received to fend off leukemia.

Next, the 8-year-old Ocala girl celebrated her remission by donning a finned tail and swimming with the iconic mermaids at Hernando County's Weeki Wachee Springs Park.

Now, a new all-women's Tampa-based non-profit whose symbol is the mermaid has made Collins the first girl they will mentor into womanhood.

"We are mermaid sisters. We are all about mermaid kisses and starfish wishes," said Joni Cusimano, a founder of A League of Xtrodinary Woman.

"Our intent is to help young girls become the women of tomorrow."

Cusimani and her four founding members took Collins to a Chuck E. Cheese in mid-October and presented a plaque to the little girl declaring her an honorary mermaid for life.

"We told her we are real mermaids who have been allowed to walk with human legs so we are able to help young girls like herself," said Cusimano, who also founded the Krewe Of Queen Anne's Revenge.

Amelia was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and the chemotherapy caused her muscles to atrophy. To rebuild her muscles, she'd press her legs together and swim like one of the legendary aquatic creatures. The motion is great for strengthening the body's core.

In August, Tampa-based MUCH Foundation, which works to bring fantasy to life for sick children, brought Amelia to Weeki Wachee to swim with its mermaids. Park officials said she can do so again whenever she returns.

So, among the coming gifts the League of Xtrodinary Woman will present to Amelia is a season pass to Weeki Wachee Springs Park.

The organization will then continue to assist Amelia in any way they can and look for others to mentor, whether the girls are sick, underprivileged, without a mother or simply need another strong woman figure in their lives.

Said Amelia, "I've never felt so important before."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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