Happy New Year to all our Mermaid Athletes! January is a month of renewed energy and a fresh start!  As we prepare to head to San Diego for the T9 Mermaid 1/2 Marathon San Diego, we too are experiencing renewed energy and a fresh start.  To help us bring in the New Year, we reached out to Cassie Onori to be our featured Inspirational Mermaid Athlete for the month of January. For the next few months, we will be featuring our latest editions to the T9 Mermaid Family, our Ambassadors.  Cassie makes her home in Southern California.  You will see her on the course in March as she runs alongside other T9 Mermaid Athletes to complete her 7th Mermaid event.  We are certain that you will enjoy reading about Cassie and her tenaciousness.  You can follow Cassie on Instagram at mama_cascas. We encourage you to Read more about Cassie's story.

Our featured Mermaid Athlete for September will be crossing her first finish line with us at the Mermaid Run San Francisco, however she won't be alone as she's bringing out over 15 enthusiastic little mermaids from Roosevelt Middle School in Oakland. Meet Hailee Lanker, teacher, runner, coach and creator of Girls Run Roosevelt. As a teach, she motivates middle school girls inside the classroom and as a coach she inspires them to cross the finish line. Check out her story, learn about Team Girls Run Roosevelt and come cheer them on in San Francisco.

November’s Inspirational Mermaid Athlete is one of our newest members to the Mermaid Family. Recently we accepted applications for our Ambassadorship program. Vanessa Wallace is one of 21 Ambassadors that were chosen to represent Mermaid Series. Over the course of the next few months, you will get to hear from our delightful Ambassadors. If you see them on the course during one of our races, don’t be a stranger. Introduce yourself. Vanessa brings with her tremendous energy, inspiration, and humor. One can never have too much of these traits. We are so happy that Vanessa is a fine addition to our Mermaid family. Read more about her impressive story.

This month, we would like to introduce you to Bernadette Gomez.  Bernadette has been a longtime Mermaid Athlete, both as a participant and volunteer.  Her infectious smile and calm demeanor are two of the inviting qualities that draw people to Bernadette. She is a big presence in the running community and Mermaids will find her running races throughout the bay area. When challenges and obstacles get in her way, Bernadette is a fierce competitor and her resiliency is priceless! Read her story and you'll see why she is our Inspirational Athlete for the month of August.

Meet Inspirational Mermaid Ashley Nelson. Ashley is more than a survivor. She is a teacher, a mother, a motivator and a tenacious woman who is defined by her abilities, not her disabilities. Read more about her inspiring story. 

Yvonne Linton is an Inspirational Mermaid to many Mermaid Athletes. Yvonne recently finished her first Half Marathon at Mermaid Run East Bay. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Keep fighting and keep smiling....you are an INSPIRATION to us all. Read more about this amazingly strong Mermaid Athlete.

Our first "Inspirational Mermaid Athlete" is Team Ari. Team Ari is an amazing mother and daughter team that frequently runs in many races throughout the Bay Area, including the Mermaid Series. Kelli and Ari Tanghe have a way of truly inspiring all who meet them. It is not uncommon to see many other runners come up and help propel the team forward on hills or on stretches where an opportunity to recover is needed. This powerhouse team is a true example of how one family can turn adversity into advocacy. Read more about their story. 

Team Ari is the mother/daughter endurance duo made up of Kelli and Ari Tanghe. As the mom, Kelli pushes Ari in an adaptive racing chair with Ari serving as the C.I.O., aka Chief Inspiration Officer. Their goal is to raise awareness for the inclusion of physically challenged athletes in endurance events and their story inspires us all to keep crossing those finish lines!

Team Ari - By Kelli Tanghe


Ari is much like any other 15 year old except she was born with Cerebral Palsy & Visual Impairment. As a mom I watched her endure years of Physical Therapy, braces, botox, and persevere thru many medical challenges. Her struggles made me realize that my body was capable of so much more. So, I made a promise to myself 9 years ago that I would no longer take my body for granted. On a cold winters day in a therapy clinic surrounded by a dozen Physical & Occupational Therapists I watched in eager anticipation as my almost 6 year old daughter took her first unassisted step. Amidst all the clapping and high fives there wasn't a dry eye in that room. That was all the motivation I needed.

The next day I laced up my running shoes. I started to run with Ari's older siblings who were teenagers and running soon became our family therapy. For years Ari patiently sat on the sidelines always asking, "how many miles did you run?" and "what did you see on your run?" Later those questions turned into "when canI run with you?" In 2012, Team Ari rolled into existence as we were able to race our first 5k together. I pushed Ari in her wheelchair. Ari loved running and found a sense of freedom she hadn't experienced before. As we crossed the finish line she put her arms up in a victory pose and before I could catch my breath said, “When can we race a marathon?” As I fought back tears of joy Ari exclaimed, “Mom, running makes my disability disappear!”

In 2013 we took on our Celebrate 13 Challenge. We decided to honor Ari becoming a teen by racing 13 half-marathons. We contacted the Mermaid Series as we wanted to participate in the Mermaid East Bay half. We trained and carefully prepared for race day. What we weren't prepared for was to be greeted at the start line by a crowd of enthusiastic women and girls. Music was playing, Ari was dancing in her chair and the positive vibe could be felt by everyone from volunteers to spectators, and athletes. We found our Happy Pace with this group and we knew we could celebrate athletes of all abilities with the Mermaid Series.

Since then we have competed in 4 races with this great race organization. Our favorite is the Mermaid San Francisco 10 mile race. The course takes athletes thru Crissy field, the Presidio, and over the majestic Golden Gate Bridge! We will never forget the care and consideration that Carlo Facchino, owner and Race director of the Mermaid Series provided us. When we excitedly requested to race in San Francisco he personally ran the stairs under the Golden Gate Bridge to count how many steps were there and make a plan so we would not encounter any barriers on race day. Now that's a Race Director making courses accessible for all. And did I mention that the Shirts and bling you receive at Mermaid races are the best?!

Fifty races later, including thirty one half-marathons and two full marathons, we are still running together as a Team. Thankfully Ari never stopped asking to run, she is quite persistent, No matter how many times we toe the start line we still get goose bumps. We are always inspired by the outpouring of encouragement, support, & positive vibes. We've met and shared the road with extraordinary individuals. We've high-fived the elite athletes and crowds at the finish line. We've heard remarkable stories from families like ours who dream to run too. We've spoken with runners just starting their training and setting goals to finish a first race. Its not easy, some days may be harder than others, life may throw you a curve, or two! Self-doubt may creep in at times. I know that pushing myself & Ari (literally) is hard but a journey worth taking. It requires a dose of persistence. Our mantra is "Yes We Can Cross Any Finish Line!" We know you will cross your finish lines too and are thankful to be a part of the Mermaid Family.

Cheers to Finding Your Happy Pace
~Team Ari

You can follow our journey @ www.facebook.com/TeamAriRun2Gether
www.twitter.com/TeamAri6

Yvonne Linton, our Inspirational Mermaid for the month of May, just completed her first half marathon this past weekend at the Mermaid Run East Bay. Yvonne also celebrated a birthday on May 10th... Happy Birthday Yvonne! May is a bittersweet month for Yvonne as she's undergoing surgery today. Our thoughts, prayers and positive vibes are with you Yvonne.

Yvonne manages to keep a smile on her face despite all the hurdles in life that she's endured. Her resilient nature and sheer determination are evident in the long list of athletic accomplishments and finish lines that she's crossed. Her favorite song is "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten and we think you'll agree that the lyrics definitely apply to this inspirational lady. Yvonne proves just how strong Mermaids are!!

We are pleased to introduce you to our Inspirational Mermaid Athlete for the month of May, Yvonne Linton. Please check out Yvonne’s in-depth interview with us and read her story here.

Here is Yvonne’s Story

It takes a lot to knock this Mermaid down. After having my right leg run over by a school bus at the age of 12, my first question to the ambulance driver was, “How long will this inconvenience me for?” I stayed home from school for one day and then ditched the crutches the second day. Later I had plastic surgery to repair what remained of the quad muscle. These muscle imbalances affected me later in life, as I began to train for endurance events. It was my physical therapist, training for her first half marathon, who somehow inspired my idea to complete a 200-mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland. At the time I started therapy, it hurt my knees just to run around the block or stand for too long, as an active lifestyle and poor postural compensations had taken their toll over the years. But I had been gradually increasing my biking mileage in charity cycling events. It was after my ride from Seattle to Portland, that I developed tendinitis in my ankle, and subsequent MRIs revealed a surprising find: a large mass inside my left ankle that turned out to be a malformation of arteries and vessels. A “4-6 week recovery” turned into four months of specialized physical therapy when post-operative complications ensued. I developed a nervous system disorder called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Early detection was critical or permanent disability and pain could result, at the injury site or throughout the body. More of my story can be found here.

Yvonne Linton, our Inspirational Mermaid for the month of May, just completed her first half marathon this past weekend at the Mermaid Run East Bay. Yvonne also celebrated a birthday on May 10th... Happy Birthday Yvonne! May is a bittersweet month for Yvonne as she's undergoing surgery today. Our thoughts, prayers and positive vibes are with you Yvonne.

Yvonne manages to keep a smile on her face despite all the hurdles in life that she's endured. Her resilient nature and sheer determination are evident in the long list of athletic accomplishments and finish lines that she's crossed. Her favorite song is "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten and we think you'll agree that the lyrics definitely apply to this inspirational lady. Yvonne proves just how strong Mermaids are!!

We are pleased to introduce you to our Inspirational Mermaid Athlete for the month of May, Yvonne Linton. Please check out Yvonne’s in-depth interview with us and read her story here.

Mermaid: Where is your favorite place to train?

Yvonne: My favorite place to train is to bike to McClellen Ranch in Cupertino to Stevens Creek Park. I love the rolling hills, the river (especially when water is actually running through it!), the side treks up Mount Eden road and surrounding streets around Garrod Horse Farms. I love the challenge of going up Montebello road without stopping and soaking in the views of the vineyards up top and the valley below. I also enjoy biking up the hill to Mora Road from within Rancho San Antonio Park, or running through the park with my friend or TRI teammates.

The lazy days of summer are upon us. Here at Mermaid Series HQ, we are busy gearing up for our fall Mermaid Series Events. We wanted to bring back our Inspirational Mermaid Athlete series. We believe that all of our Mermaid Athletes are special. We take the time and care to profile ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Look around you next time you toe the line, you may see a few of the familiar faces that we have profiled so far.

MS: Not many know your story. Those of us who have known you for a long time understand that you are on a comeback. Would you share with our readers a little more about you?

BG: I was 43 years old running 2 to 3 times a week, and when I am not running I was at the gym. I had two teen, well-adjusted boys, and my marriage, with even the trials that marriages go through, was sailing smoothly. I was surrounded by great friends who share the same values that I have: family, running, laughs, and good food (not always in that order). My life was full. I was content and happy.

The events that transpired on October 28, 2014, were truly unexpected. I had been nursing a horrible migraine all day. I called in sick for work and spent most of the day in bed. I got up, made dinner and watched game 6 of the World Series. Disappointed with the outcome of the game, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. I tucked my youngest to sleep and my eldest was hanging out with me in my room. All of the sudden, I felt as if someone hit me on the back of my head with a 2x4. My kid, who was 16 at the time, noticed I was slurring my words. I do not

have a recollection of what happened next. I heard the word “stroke” being said by paramedics. I heard “stroke unit,” then, I heard nothing.

I woke up a few weeks later, still very out of it. I was told that I had a stroke. I heard myself say, “I have to get out of here. I am running the 10k Turkey Trot.” I still had not realized that my life as I knew it, had changed.

A blood vessel had broken in my head, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. [After] three weeks in and out of the ICU, I was transferred to Kaiser’s Intensive In-Patient rehab facility in Vallejo, California. I could not move or feel the left side of my body. When I was told that I had to learn to walk again, I was in shock. I cried. I refused to go to therapy. I hated being in my wheelchair.

The next day, I got to work. It was painful. It was hard. My family was involved. They had to learn how to get me in/out of the car, the bed, the shower and the toilet. They were planning on building a ramp so that I can get into my house. I told them, “No ramp.” I told them that we wouldn’t need it.

One of my physical therapists challenged me. The challenge: “You will walk the ‘She is Beautiful 5k in March.’” It was November. The first few weeks at home were really trying. It was tough to navigate my wheelchair around the house. I could not do it myself because my left arm was not working. I wanted to be out of that chair, even if it was just in the house. By New Year’s Day, I was out of the wheelchair and was using a quad cane.

Fast forward to March 2015, with the support and help of my very, very precious friends and my husband, I crossed the finish line of the She is Beautiful 5k race. I walked 6 more 5k’s after that. My next goal was to walk a 5k without a cane or without having to hold anyone’s hand. That goal was met at the San Francisco Mermaid Series Race 5k.

I still have more work to do. I have tone and spasticity (one of the many gifts of the stroke) on my left leg which is preventing me from running. But, I am working on that. My arm still needs a lot of work to be fully functional. I was told that being a runner saved my life. I plan on living life fully and along the way, inspire others to push through obstacles in their lives.

MS: We are without words. Knowing that we were a part of your recovery is an extreme honor. We loved watching you cross that finish line on November 1, 2015 and look forward to seeing you cross many more.

How are you doing these days?

BG: I have not walked outside for a while now. I fell and had to get stitches in my face. I got a little nervous being outside. I focused on strengthening and core work at my gym. I also started working out in the pool. I do pool walking and aqua Zumba. I believe those activities helped me get stronger.

My PT saw that I was walking incorrectly. I was fast, but my gait was wrong. I had to relearn to walk properly and improve my balance. These days, I stand at the corner of the house doing exercises to challenge my balance. My son asked me if I was practicing for a sobriety field test.

I am focused on improving my gait, balance and form right now. Even if this means I have to walk on the treadmill. Walking in front of a mirror gives me instant feedback on what I need to

improve. I miss running so much. It is silly, but I look at the runners up and down my street (there are a lot of them) and I envy them.

MS: We have no doubt that you will get back to where you want to be, Bernadette. You have tremendous grit and determination. Where might someone follow your journey online?

BG: I have a blog site called mommaberna.com and I have a Facebook site called Sole Stories by MamaBerna (@mommaberna).

MS: Thank you, Bernadette, for opening up to the Mermaid Athletes out there.

Know the signs of a stroke by following the acronym, F.A.S.T. You can learn more about the signs at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/WarningSigns/Stroke-Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms_UCM_308528_SubHomePage.jsp

November’s Inspirational Mermaid Athlete is one of our newest members to the Mermaid Family. Recently we accepted applications for our Ambassadorship program. Vanessa Wallace is one of 21 Ambassadors that were chosen to represent Mermaid Series. Over the course of the next few months, you will get to hear from our delightful Ambassadors. If you see them on the course during one of our races, don’t be a stranger. Introduce yourself. Vanessa brings with her tremendous energy, inspiration, and humor. One can never have too much of these traits. We are so happy that Vanessa is a fine addition to our Mermaid family.

Where is your favorite place to run?

I do so much of my running and training on the Santa Rosa Creek trail. It is where I ran my first marathon and it brings me so many fond memories to be on that space. There is this part of the path about 2 miles in from my favorite spot where cows are almost always grazing. If they are out, I always stop to take a selfie with them!!!! My husband runs too and while we never do training runs together, that's also his favorite place to run, so some early Sunday mornings I'll run in to him while we're both out getting our long runs in and it perks up my morning to see him there.

What is the longest distance you have run?

I ran my first marathon this past August, 26.2 miles! It was the most life changing experience. I learned more about myself and my determination in those 6 hours, 7 minutes and 28 seconds than I have in any other project I've ever set my mind to. I started my weight loss journey at 264.2 pounds and my mantra through training was “from 264.2 to 26.2” because I wanted to celebrate my accomplishments while acknowledging how far I have come in my journey. I’m looking forward to training for my second marathon to celebrate my 30th birthday next October at the Portland Marathon.

Have you noticed people treat you differently when you tell them your story?

I think people do not expect to hear how much I have accomplished with my weight loss and my running when they first see me. Because it is so much of who I am, it feels routine for me. I sometimes forget how far I’ve come from, so when I share it with people who are new to my story, it can be eye opening that I haven’t always been physically active. I am still on my path to get to my goal weight but I have accomplished so many physical achievements because I have not let my body weight determine my ability to set and achieve my goals. I’ve stopped thinking “when I get to my goal weight I will…” and saying to myself, “if I can do it now, then I’m going to go for it!” I've run six half marathons at this point and am training for my seventh, one full marathon and outside of running workout in multiple boot camp and high intensity exercise classes. Seeing the photos and hearing the struggles I went through prior to my weight loss is eye opening. The visual is shocking, but sharing with them that I used to be so physically exhausted when I was heavy that I could not walk up the hill to my college classes versus now with running long distance and crushing my goals, it is a reminder to people that I meet along my journey that my identity is not defined by who I was or the size that I’m at, but it is defined by my determination to work hard and believe in myself. I think rather than being treated differently, it is a real, down to earth human reminder that you are never too old or too far down a certain path to become who you want to be. You can set goals and become who you want to be at any point in life. I am just a regular person with access to the same resources as most, but my strong will and determination (and sometimes my stubbornness!) have gotten me far in life and sharing that with others provides a sense of empowerment that anyone can be their best if they just keep trying.

What advice or words of wisdom do you offer our Mermaid Athletes?

Do not ever be afraid to set goals for your self and work toward them. While setting goals, make yourself a priority to achieve them and find the fun in setting the goal. Celebrate your achievements and NEVER downgrade them! Whether your goal is to run your first 5k, lose weight, PR your marathon time or anything in between, always celebrate. When you work hard for something and you achieve it, you deserve every moment of bragging, celebrating and rewarding yourself for your success. It took me a

long time to realize that. I was always so busy setting a new goal or thinking about where I had not succeeded, I never stopped to toot my own horn. Now that is so important to me!

Another word of wisdom that I want to share is that my favorite thing to remind myself is that I get to define me. My size, my age, my speed, who I used to be…. Those do not define me or define my future. Who I am, my belief in myself and who I work toward being is what makes me uniquely me. Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone if it means you get to work toward your goals. Go for your big dreams and let them become who you are. Even if that is not who you think you are, if that is who you want to be, then shoot for the stars and push yourself to get there.

How did you hear of Mermaid Series?

I first saw it posted on Facebook last year when the SF Run was being advertised. A friend of mine ran the 10 miler! I wanted to attend the event but had already booked myself for a half marathon – and then when it came back around to the East Bay I was so disappointed because I had already scheduled myself that weekend too!!! I was so excited when I found out I could do the SF run this year!

If you could run with anyone, who would it be?

Kelly Roberts who runs the blog Run, Selfie, Repeat has been an amazing inspiration in my life. She has really helped me with my transition in thinking from seeing myself with a skinny body to seeing my strong body. This Summer she started the “Sports Bra Squad” movement, encouraging women to shed their shirts and run in the sports bra. This was a big goal of mine and her push to encourage women to celebrate their bodies was so important for me. I’m excited because I set a goal to run a race in a sports bra as part of the body acceptance movement that she encourages and will achieve that at Mermaid SF this year. She is absolutely hilarious and so much fun and would be a hoot to run with. Kelly – if you’re reading this, we can go for a run together and rock out to Hamilton!!!!!

What hidden talents do you have?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in music! I studied Opera and Musical Theater in college and it is a hobby of mine. I love performing in musicals. I’ve got a mean Soprano High C that I can knock out and I’ve been tap dancing for many years so my tap shoes are well loved. It is another area in life besides running that fills my soul and brings me so much joy.

I'm always happy and willing to share my story. You can find me on Facebook for more selfies, cow photos and dance parties (oh yeah and some running too!) at Vanessa Goes from Fat to Fit at https://www.facebook.com/fattofitvanessa/