Since 1983, entrepreneur Melon Dash has been filling a gap she saw in swim education with Miracle Swimming. She says inexperienced adults often wondered, “How can I feel safe here? How does the water work? How can I prevent water from going into my nose? How do I prevent myself from panicking? How do I make sure I don’t sink?” For 34 years, she has answered those questions and many more for over 5,000 swimmers worldwide.

During that time, Dash and her venture have been written about by The New York Times and USA Today, and featured on NBC’s Today show. And Miracle Swimming has enjoyed some important milestones — last year, after decades of renting pools in the Sarasota, Fla., area, she was able to buy a pool for Miracle Swimming to use exclusively, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Now with her business firmly established, Dash, whose full first name is Mary Ellen, plans to step away from the role of CEO to focus on publishing swimming-related books, though she says she will remain involved in the company.

Through Miracle Swimming, Dash says she gained the opportunity to travel the world, making her way to swim-friendly dream destinations like Hawaii, Fiji and the Maldives. “I look at what that life would have cost, and wonder if I’d even be able to do these things drawing a paycheck from someone else,” she says.

But more than that, the aquatic business owner is grateful to have been able to turn her passion into a living. “I have an avenue for my highest talent,” she says, her voice filling with emotion. “It gives me a depth of purpose and certainty of my worth, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”