A Chris Greene Lake Victory Story

There are a lot of different ways to win a race, and coming in first isn’t always one of them.  At the Chris Greene Lake 2-mile swim I was seeded next to Janet Manning in my wave. I heard her mention it was her first OW swim just before the race started.  Later, I learned that it was more than her first OW swim—it was a triumph against odds.  Here’s Janet’s story, with thanks to her for sharing it:

Janet Manning: Chris Greene Lake 2009

With apologies to Abigail Nunn with her impressive double victory, there was an even bigger winner at the 2009 Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim.  You might have seen her in the 2 mile race.  She was the crazy woman with the unremarkable time of 1 hour 4 minutes who was celebrating at the finish like she had just finished a marathon.  I am that crazy woman.  I probably shouldn’t have been alive to see that day, might very well have been paralyzed and certainly should not have been crossing the finish line of my first 2 mile open water swim.

My story is kind of amazing…I truly should not have been at this race.  In February, I had a pretty bad ski accident.  Hot dogging off a mogul, I miscalculated and caught my tips on the landing, diving head first into some very solid H2O.  I was, as a friend said, writing checks my 45 year old body couldn’t cash.  Fortunately I had on my helmet, but upon landing heard a crack.  My friend immediately called for the ski patrol, and I was transported to the hospital.  There, a CT scan showed nothing but possibly a degenerated disk.  I was sent home in a collar with pain meds.   The next day an orthopedic surgeon looked at my x-ray and concurred, probably just a muscular or ligament injury.   Take it easy for a few days and you’ll be fine, he said.  A few days later, I felt a pop followed by excruciating pain and went back to the doctor who put me on cortisone.  Two weeks later I was told to stop wearing my collar and noticed some major bruising on my chest that I had not noticed before.  An X-ray indicated a broken sternum.  By this time I was up and walking around with relatively minimal pain, but after two hours, I always felt pain shoot down my arms.  I tried to resume my life.  I travelled down to Annapolis to watch my daughters compete at their state championship meet, sitting long hours in the stands for three days.  I went to physical therapy, stretched daily and did my exercises religiously.  Still, I couldn’t shake the shooting pains.  My PT and several other friends in the medical field thought I should get an MRI because it had now been a month and I was still needing heavy pain medication to get through my days.  My orthopedist flatly refused, so I called a friend for a second opinion.  He immediately set me up for an MRI the next day.

Crazy as it may seem, the MRI [pictured below] showed that I had been walking around with a broken neck for about four weeks.  And it was a bad one: My C5 and C6 vertebrae had shifted .5 cm and the disk between them was crushed.  My neurosurgeon said it was a miracle I wasn’t paralyzed or dead.  I was in surgery the next day for 5 hours.

from Janet's MRI

I woke up sporting a titanium plate and 10 screws in my neck.  I have an impressive 6 inch battle scar down the back of my neck and a 3 inch one in front.  My neck mobility is somewhat limited, but there are no pity parties going on in my house.   I know am just about the luckiest girl in the world.  I had been in physical therapy for weeks with a broken neck and actually had traction done the day before my MRI.  With all that twisting, pulling and prodding, I cannot believe I am alive to tell this story.

After surgery, I continued PT but was not gaining enough range of motion in my neck.  I was also not happy about being so inactive.  I was on leave from my job as a teacher, going crazy from the lack of mental and physical stimulation.  A friend of mine was training for the Chesapeake Bay crossing.  I got to thinking…It wasn’t looking like I was ever going to be able to run again, but maybe I could start swimming  with a goal of crossing the bay by my 5oth birthday in 2014.   I had been a competitive swimmer through college; however, I had never raced a distance longer than 200 yards.  Would I be able to build the strength and endurance to try the one mile race by next summer?  My friend would have nothing of that sissy goal and insisted I amp up my goal to cross the bay (4.4 miles) in 2010.  Why not?  Looking online for a qualifier swim this summer, I stumbled upon the Chris Greene Lake cable swim.  Perfect for a beginner, I thought, with no chop or current to deal with plus the cable to help me go straight.  I joined MAC Masters in Frederick, MD and began my training.  I was not real keen on the idea of getting back in the pool and following that dreaded black line lap after lap again after a respite of nearly 20 years.  I had tried masters once before, but with no race goals, it was pointless and just no fun.  But this time it was different—I had a goal.

Happily I discovered that two other women from my neighborhood were also swimming at the Chris Greene Lake event.  We all enjoyed the camaraderie of driving down to Virginia together.  Sarah, the most experienced of us, offered tips.  Kathleen and I laughed at how just the week before we had both swum our first 1650 time trial.  Now here we were entered to swim 2 miles…in a LAKE!  Crazy, middle-aged women….What were we thinking?

So later that morning when we all met up at the finish line, I think my friends were the only ones who understood why I could barely contain myself.  After all I had

Janet Manning with friends after a victorious finish

Janet Manning (in blue, on right) with friends Kathleen Igo (left) and Sara Levine (center) after a victorious finish

been through in the past four months, I had just done the unthinkable.   What a high…You know, winning is a relative term.  Achieving one’s goal, whether it’s to place first, drop time or just finish can make you feel every bit a winner.  And now I’m hooked on open water swimming thanks to that positive first experience at Chris Greene Lake.  It’s the perfect sport: real nice supportive people, great exercise and a feeling of accomplishment every time you step out of the water.  Hope to see you all again next year!

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2 responses to “A Chris Greene Lake Victory Story

  1. Hi, Janet,

    My friend Lauri Wroblewski sent me the link to your blog, and I much enjoyed reading about your triumph over adversity. I swam the Chesapeake Bay swim a number of years ago, and it is definitely a fun challenge–for the rest of your life, everytime you drive over those bridges, you can tell your fellow passengers that you swam this distance!

    Good luck and keep on swimming. –Jim

    • Hi Jim–Thanks for your kind words of encouragement. Laurie and I swam together in HS. Tried to convince her to start OW swimming but no luck as she is so busy w/ her own little swimmer:-). Maybe in a few years. Hopefully I will get selected for the Bay swim next year and we’ll meet–I’ll be the one either celebrating madly on shore or the swimmer being rescesitated in on of the rescue boats.Take care!

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