Nadya Vessey has done what I imagine many little girls only dream of; she’s become a real-life mermaid, thanks to the special effects team behind The Lord of the Rings.

She was born with a congenital deformity that prevented her legs from ever developing properly. She lost her first leg just below the knee at the age of seven. By the time she had reached sixteen, both had been amputated.

The lifelong swimmer–now in her fifties–wrote the Oscar-winning Weta Workshop about making her a tail after she had fibbed to a four-year-old boy about being a mermaid.

Miss Vessey said, “One day a little boy came up, he must have been about four and he saw me taking off my (prosthetic) legs and he started with the ‘why’ questions, you know, ‘why haven’t you got any legs’, etc. And I said ‘have you heard of The Little Mermaid and he said ‘yes’ and I said ‘I’m a mermaid’ and he got this look on his face and he said ‘wow that’s cool’ and ran off to tell his dad.”

To her surprise, they said yes!

It took two years and nearly 800 hours to construct the tail as every aspect of it is custom made for Nadya’s body. Using 3D modeling technology, the spine and tail fin are made from poly carbonate. It needed a specific buoyancy that matched her proportions. The skin is neoprene with a Lycra sock that’s digitally printed with scales that actually sparkle. This level of detail is of no surprise if you’ve seen any of the LoTR movies.

Vessey plans to use the tail to help her complete the swimming section of a triathlon.

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Photos via Weta Workshop