Great distance: Warren grad Manning swims across Lake Tahoe

It’s 21.23 miles from the southern shore to the northern shore of Lake Tahoe and, on Friday, a Warren native swam all 21.23 of them.

Janet Kylander Manning, a member of the Warren Area High School (WAHS) class of 1982 along with both the WAHS and Warren County YMCA swim teams, set off from the southern shore in California at 9:20 p.m. PST and arrived on the opposite end in Nevada 14 hours and 28 minutes later.

Manning’s swim, however, is not even close to the beginning of her adventures in open water swimming.

In 2009, Manning attempted a jump on a mogul ski slope. What was normally “something silly I had successfully landed countless times before,” she said, turned into something dangerous as unseasonably warm temperatures caused the snow to be too soft.

Manning hit the ground head-first and heard a crack when she landed. She was transported down the mountain a few minutes later to an ambulance that was waiting to take her to the hospital for a CT scan. Manning was diagnosed with a “mildly degenerated disk” and discharged from the hospital.

Her healing process did not go as it should have. Manning was unable to stand up or sit for more than two hours without excruciating pain. Finally, after having an MRI against her doctor’s orders, Manning discovered that her pain was caused by a broken neck that should have typically left her paralyzed, if not worse.

“I was bedridden,” Manning said. “That was pretty traumatic. I walked around for five weeks undiagnosed.”

Manning turned to Facebook during that time and found out that the man who helped her from the mountain was training for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. Manning, a life-long swimmer and mother of three young swimmers, was hooked.

“I started with open-water training after my surgery,” Manning said, having taken over 20 years off from the sport. “I got pretty serious.”

Manning started her open water swimming career in New York’s Red Lighthouse Swim six months after her surgery and crossed the Chesapeake Bay the next spring. Manning looked into training camps and found that Jamie Patrick, an open water swimmer with an impressive resume, also ran a camp at Lake Tahoe. Manning was in.

“We had a huge task at hand,” said Patrick. “If we over-trained or re-injured her, the swim was off. We had to look at it on a daily basis.” Due to distance, that training was conducted through texts, e-mails and weekly phone calls. Manning recorded her workouts on a website called for Patrick to view. She was also able to leave Patrick narratives about how her workouts went.

Despite the risk, Manning was determined.

“I wanted to make the trip worth it,” said Manning, who lives in Frederick, Md. “I ended up setting the goal of swimming across the lake. I’m not the fastest. I’m not setting any records, but it became a goal.”

Besides physical training that included long days of 12,000 yards in the pool in the morning and 12,000 yards in the evening, Manning went through mental training as well.

“It gets tough,” Patrick said. “She was in the water for up to six hours at a time. You have to dig deep to do things beyond what you think you can. You’re in your head for a long time. There’s very few people who can actually do this stuff.”

Manning turned to Jen Schumacher, a sport psychologist, to help her “through the idea of doing anything for 14 hours,” she said.

“It was daunting,” said Manning. “Once I got here, I knew I would have to face the fear. There’s fish and you don’t know what else under you. I swam over the deepest part of Lake Tahoe. There are no sharks, but there are probably some things down there.”

That deepest unknown something was 1,644 feet below Manning.

Besides the fear of unknown creatures, Manning had another unknown heading into her swim – meeting her coach. “We never met (in person) until the swim on Thursday and here I am putting my life in his hands,” Manning said.

“We’ve been working together for eight months,” said Patrick. “I met her literally hours before she got in the lake.”

Despite the fear, Manning said her hard work was worth it, especially while swimming through the night. “It was gorgeous,” she said. “There’s no light pollution there, so it’s pitch black and you can see every star. It was magnificent. But it (swimming at night) was still odd.”

Manning’s original plan was to start her swim around 3 a.m. and swim from there. However, choppy weather conditions forced the team to reconsider. “When I got here and Jamie arrived, he said ‘We need to change the plan.’ It was too rough.”

On top of having to focus on making it across Lake Tahoe, Manning also had to worry about replenishing her nutrients. “People don’t understand that, like when you’re running, you’re sweating. You don’t realize it because you’re already wet,” Manning explained. “It wasn’t really wavy, but I wasn’t holding my feeds down. It’s problematic. You’re not holding in nutrients. You can get really, really cold that way.”

Those feeds include liquids and gel packs during the course of the swim. Manning wasn’t allowed, due to open water swimming rules, to touch the boat or have support from a fixed object, so they came up with a system where Patrick would clip a bottle onto a rope. Patrick could then just pull the bottle back onto the boat.

Manning said that she couldn’t have done her Lake Tahoe swim without Patrick.

“He’s so motivational and positive,” she said. “He totally turned me into a long-distance swimmer.”

Patrick, however, says that he might have gotten even more out of the experience than Manning did.

“She sacrificed a lot,” Patrick explained. “She grew as a person. From the time I met her until today, she’s a totally different person. She went from literally having no idea about what she was getting herself into to someone who was fearful, but confident. I’ve piloted 12 people across the lake, and to see them hit the beach is remarkable. But what Janet did is what most people wouldn’t consider doing, and the people who would often fail.”

Patrick also said that Manning’s husband wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on her progress. “He was up all night long. I was watching her website and messages just kept coming in from people watching her. She had hundreds of people – maybe more – following her.”

“There’s pressure in knowing that people are watching,” Manning said. “When there are people cheering you on, you don’t want to disappoint them. It was a surprise that so many people were following along. It was unintended.”

The attention didn’t stop on Manning. The added followers also helped to raise awareness for Two Top Adaptive Sports Foundation, the cause Manning decided to swim for.

Two Top works with disabled athletes to provide opportunities to participate in adapted sports throughout the year. Manning’s own experience led her to the foundation. “I could have been paralyzed,” Manning said. “I don’t understand how I wasn’t. I got involved with Two Top through the resort I ski at and I just really support their work. It’s so good for their mental being to be able to learn a sport and have a sense of freedom. It’s an amazing program. Donations have been rolling in and I’m happy that I could do some good with this.”

Patrick summed up both Manning’s story as well as her cause: “It’s about overcoming the pain and everything else.”