Because she has multiple sclerosis, Kassie McManus can’t run, ride a bike or walk without assistance. But she can swim. Boy, can she swim! She’s determined to swim 2.4 miles in the Pacific Ocean to raise money to fight MS—and to prove to herself that she can do it.
She can’t run. She can’t ride a bicycle. She can’t walk without a cane, walker or friend to lean on, and her muscles melt in the heat.
But Kassie McManus, who has multiple sclerosis, can swim. She started competing in the swim portions of triathlons in 2007.
The Port Washington woman is now training for the longest, most arduous swim of her life.
On Sept. 6, McManus, 56, will swim 2.4 miles in the Pacific Ocean in the 41st annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim in Hawaii. The endurance swim extends the length of Waikiki Beach and was the forerunner for Ironman events.
McManus’ son Sam will help her into the water, follow her progress from the beach and assist her from the water to the timing mat, which will be 20 to 30 meters away on the beach.
To be an official finisher, McManus must complete the course within 2 hours, 40 minutes. She’s not trying to set any records, just finish. She’s dubbed her effort “Kassie’s Water Adventure.”
“I’m doing it as a fund-raiser for the MS Society and to help the tens of thousands of people who have this disease,” McManus said. “I’m also doing it for myself.
“I was going to do the baby Roughwater, which is about 1.2 miles, but with the MS I don’t know how long I will be able to swim. I just decided I have to do it this year. It’s for me.”
This is a personal journey, but McManus cannot undertake it by herself. She has enlisted the help of several close friends and trains with the TrY Ozaukee Tri Club.
McManus is also taking a master swim class to learn to be as efficient as possible in the water.
She recently swam in Lake Michigan, the closest she can come to replicating the Pacific Ocean in this area.
“The water was really cold, but I walked a lot better when I got out of the water. I was walking almost completely on my own,” McManus said. “It’s amazing how much the heat takes out of me.”
Jeanne Kasza of Port, a triathlete who is sidelined with an injury, and Keelyn Lyon, director of the Feith Family YMCA in Saukville, helped her in and out of Lake Michiga, but didn’t swim that day. Carol Wessels of the Town of Grafton is another friend helping McManus with her journey.
“I’m very, very proud of her,” Kasza said as she watched McManus swim. “My aunt has MS, and I know what a hard disease it is. To be challenging herself to swim that distance when her legs don’t work is incredible.
“Every time she does something new, she’s fighting the disease a little more. “I’m very happy, honored, that she asked me to help her on this journey.”
McManus plans to swim 1.2 miles in the Madison Open Swim on Aug. 21 with Kasza, who expects to be healed by then.
The next day, McManus will do a 1/4-mile sprint swim in the Danskin Pleasant Prairie Triathlon with Jen Debroux, Lyon and other TrY club members. McManus’ first triathlon was the Danskin in 2007 with Debroux, who bikes and runs but doesn’t like to swim.
“I get to have the joyous feeling of swimming with 200 other women at once. It will be good for me to experience that again and decide how to handle it,” McManus said.
McManus said she always enjoyed being in lakes and pools, but didn’t do much swimming until she was diagnosed with MS. She discovered her body is much lighter in the water, and she loves the feeling of freedom as she glides through the water.
In 2008, McManus’ son Peter O’Byrne
encouraged her to do the Green Lake triathlon in Spicer, Minn., where her parents used to live.
Peter, who lives in Denver, biked 28 miles, a nephew ran six miles and McManus swam three-quarters of a mile in the Olympic-distance event.
“It gave a chance for my mother and I to go back to where she used to live and visit old friends,” said McManus, whose 90-year-old mother Rosella lives with her.
McManus was inspired to do the Waikiki Roughwater last year when she was in Honolulu with her daughter Theresa, who lives in Hampton, Va. They visited McManus’ high school friend, Holly Yamada, who moved to Hawaii 20 years ago.
“I saw these people swimming out in the ocean and found out they were doing the Roughwater Swim. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” McManus said.
“I thought I was going to be afraid of the ocean, but I wasn’t. We swam to the end of Waikiki beach and saw sea turtles. It was so pretty.”
Yamada plans to swim the baby Roughwater. Her friend Rod Morales will swim the full distance and watch out for McManus.
The first wave of swimmers will start at 9 a.m. Swimmers must round buoy No. 10 by 11 a.m. to continue. Anyone who doesn’t meet that mark will be taken to shore.
Sunburn is a concern. McManus will slather her body with sunscreen the entire time she is in Hawaii and put extra on before the event.
“I’m a little worried about the salt water. That’s one thing I can’t train for, but I’ve talked to other people, who said it wasn’t a problem,” McManus said.
McManus said there are times she feels sorry for herself, but her body responds better when she laughs and is upbeat and positive.
“When I get into that whiny ‘It sucks to be me’ mode, I have to turn things around by remembering what I am grateful for,” she said. “I am grateful for the wonderful support of my family and friends. I am grateful for the Y pool and that community of workout buddies and cheerleaders.
“I am grateful for the MS researchers and my medical and rehab professionals who are helping me stay on my feet.”
Donations may be made by visiting the Web site www.wisMS.org, click on donations, tributes and memorials, and search for “Kassie’s Water Adventure” or call 1-800-242-3358.
With support from Jeanne Kasz (left) and Keelyn Lyon, Kassie McManus entered Lake Michigan for a swim. Photo by Sam Arendt