Melon (M. Ellen) Dash

Founder M. Ellen (Melon) Dash, a competitive swimmer all her life, left her job as an administrative assistant for an orthopedic surgeon in Berkeley, CA in 1982, knowing that there was something she was born to do. A book asked her, “Is there an activity you love which you wouldn’t mind being paid $100 to do?” The answer was, 1) coaching swimming and, 2) teaching adults who are afraid in water to swim.

As a graduate student she’d taught Beginning Swimming to undergrads at Keene State College in New Hampshire (1978). One day as a Red Cross instructor at KSC, she stood on the deck teaching a Beginning swim class to 20 undergraduates. As she gave instructions to kick across the pool with the flutter kick, she was stared at by no less than 10 students who were asking a question they couldn’t put into words: “Why are you telling me what to do with my arms and legs when I am afraid I might not live?” With their attention on survival, they could not focus on swimming skills.

A new system of teaching was required.

She was teaching Beginning Swimming but students needed information that came before Beginning Swimming. If something comes before the beginning, it should be the beginning.

She asked the college administration if she could offer a class for undergraduates who weren’t ready to learn swimming mechanics because they were afraid. The administration, while cooperative, advised that it would take too much red tape to change the undergraduate curriculum. They suggested she teach a new class through the Adult Extension Program which the College would promote and students could take. She agreed.

People came. It worked. They were ecstatic.

In 1983, she realized that no one was expert at helping people who are afraid in water. She realized that this was her work. Transpersonal Swimming Institute opened two months later, May 1, 1983.

Since 1983, 5000 students and 65 instructors have graduated from her programs. She produced a video, wrote a book, has spoken at numerous national and international events, hosted a 13-episode radio program –The Learn to Swim Show–, appeared the New York Times and USA Today and in dozens of other newspapers, television and radio programs, and has set a goal of reducing preventable drowning to zero by teaching every swimming instructor how to teach afraid adults; and teaching every adult to be confident in deep water.

Dash has a masters degree from the University of Michigan and a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. She finished Top Five in her age-group in the World Masters Swimming Championships in 2006, in the US Masters Nationals in 2010 and the 2013 Master Pan Ams. She lives in Sarasota, Florida.