My Mermaid Swim School - South Pinellas Instructors


Mary Ramsey

Mary was born in Pittsburgh, PA and was relocated to Florida with her family when she was 2 years old. Upon seeing her first clear blue swimming pool when they arrived in St. Pete., with no hesitation, Mary jumped right in and began her love of "all things water sports"! At the age of 15 Mary became a Lifeguard for the city of St. Pete. and during her 1st summer as a guard began teaching drown proofing and swimming lessons. Later on in her career Mary completed a certification course and became a water aerobics instructor. Mary is a graduate of Eckerd College and she is a member of the National Association of Medical Sales Representatives. She has an 18 year old son whom she taught to swim before he was a year old. She loves teaching "Mommy and Me" classes and she truly enjoys the fulfillment of helping kids of all ages overcome a fear of the water and find a love for swimming!


Garry NelsonCourtney Kniss

Garry grew up in IL and graduated from Eastern IL University with a B.S. degree in Physical Education and a minor in Psychology. During the summer months Garry served as the Aquatic Director at the Towering Pines Boys camp in Eagle River Wisconsin. After college Garry got his first coaching job at the Hall of Fame pool in Ft. Lauderdale FL, where Former Olympic Coach Jack Nelson hired Garry to be his Head Age Group Coach and Head Instructor for the Jack Nelson Swim School. During his time at FLST Garry learned the skills required to teach children of all ages how to swim. Garry continued his career serving as Head Coach for various schools, as well as started his own club team called the Broward Seahawks. During that time Garry he also became one of the first Program Directors for the new learn-to-swim program called Swim America. Garry went on to coach his teams to 42 national champions, 7 national records, 232 all Americans and several top 2 team finishes. Garry was also honored as National Male Coach of the Year 1995 and 1997. Garry was also voted into the BCC Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

After all his success, Garry retired from full-time teaching and coaching in 2011. After a brief stint in Asheville, North Carolina, he missed the water and moved to St. Petersburg. "I have always wanted to stay involved in swimming and working for Mermaid Swim School to teach lessons to the children of this area is a great opportunity. I believe all parents should consider getting their children lessons, with the amount of water in our area it is a must. I look forward to teaching your children in a fun and safe way."


Cheryl BonnesCourtney Kniss

Cheryl is originally from Buffalo, New York and moved to Florida 14 years ago to pursue her career as a marine biologist. Cheryl has a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Florida Institute of Technology and works full-time as a Marine Mammal Outreach Specialist. Cheryl swam competitively in high school and is an avid scuba diver with hundreds of logged dives. Cheryl’s interest in becoming a swim instructor began while she was an Aquarist at Discovery Cove and enjoys helping students of all ages see past their fear of water to the joy that swimming can bring. She has her Red Cross Water Safety Instructor Certification, as well as CPR, AED and First Aid.


Griffin DonnellyGriffin Donnelly

Griffin was born and raised in New Canaan, Connecticut, where he became part of his town's swim team at a very young age. He placed first in multiple county tournament's until the age of 14. He also has a passion for karate, which he competed in nationally, and achieved the rank of third degree black belt. Griffin also participated in baseball and football throughout high school, while working as a lifeguard. He moved to Florida two years ago, and decided to get his WSI so that he could teach swim lessons. He will attend Tulane university in the fall to study finance and engineering. Griffin loves working with kids, and enjoys any kind of aquatic sport!


Charlotte BenzigerCharlotte Benziger

Charlotte grew up outside of Washington, DC and is a recent graduate of Eckerd College. After volunteering with The Peace Corps in Ecuador, she decided to return to the warmth and sunshine of St. Petersburg! Charlotte has had a love for the water ever since she can remember. She joined the swim team at the age of five and happily made her varsity swim team in high school, being named captain her senior year. Charlotte continued expressing her love for the water by life guarding and instructing at a summer camp in West Virginia for six consecutive summers. She has been Lifeguard and Waterfront certified, including CPR and First Aid, with the American Red Cross since 2009. Charlotte is also employed at The Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg where she doubles as the Development Coordinator and a substitute teacher. She loves working with kids, teaching swimming lessons, and traveling in her spare time. Charlotte can not wait to help your family succeed in the water!


Kara HoganKara Hogan

Kara is a transient from the desert paradise of Las Vegas, NV but spent her summers between Port Charlotte and Key West before moving to Saint Petersburg in 2011. Having an Aunt who has been a Certified Lifeguard since the late 70's she could swim before she could walk and went after her boater's license at the age of 15. You can find her snorkeling with her oldest son, skim boarding with her middle son, or building sand castles and hunting for sea critters with her little mermaid! With their love of all things water Kara decided to pursue her Water Safety Instructor's certification through the Red Cross and turn her passion into a teaching career. She is also certified in Adult and Pediatric First Aid, CPR/AED. As her day job she is a licensed Cosmetologist who's been in the industry since she was 21, she has been an educator for young talent and received specialized training for children and adults with special needs.


April WhatleyApril Whatley

April Whatley was born in Tampa FL and has been passionate about the water since her first swimming lesson at the age of three. She later moved to Texas where she attended school, and eventually earned her Master's Degree in Child Psychology. After graduation, April began training as a Stunt Professional for TV and movies, and has been doing stunts since 2008. She went to Key West for two months in 2015 to complete her Diver’s Training before relocating back to the Tampa Bay area. April now resides in Treasure Island where she works as a Swim Instructor, Stunt Professional, as well as a Real Estate agent. With living on the coast, April knows how important it is for children to be able to swim. She is able to keep her lessons fun while teaching the skills needed for her students to be as safe as possible.


Wendy HessingerWendy Hessinger

During Wendy's early years growing up in Pennsylvania she was very active, whether it was skiing or doing other winter activities. Later, she moved to South Florida to attend Nova University; this was when she fell in love with Florida and fitness. One of her required classes was Physical Education; she chose yoga. Her yoga instructor Mark Roberts amazed her; his inspiration instilled in her a lifelong passion for yoga. Yoga is a lifelong journey, and she loves knowing that she can learn something new every single day! She loves and appreciate learning in general. Wendy has a passion for teaching swimming, yoga, and is also a personal trainer. Wendy has a positive and upbeat attitude that children immediately respond to! Wendy is a great instructor who will be able to push your child to their full potential as a swimmer. She looks forward to teaching your child the swimming skills they need to be a safe and successful swimmer for life!