As he picked his head up from the water with the pier coming into sight, whatever aches and pains the Chesapeake Bayhawks’ Nick Manis felt quickly evaporated. The end of a grueling seven-hour, run-swim endurance test was in sight. Waiting on the end of the Severn Community Pier was a group of Manis’ friends and family. But the most important member of the contingent was the inspiration for the event, Manis’ close friend, uncle and mentor Brian Adams.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, Adams has been suffering the effects of the disease including speech and balance issues. After watching his uncle fight Parkinson’s the last seven years, the disease has become near and dear to Manis’ heart. When he was presented an opportunity to raise money and awareness through an endurance challenge earlier this year, it was an easy choice. He would work to raise money and awareness for his uncle Brian and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
“I really wanted to do something to help and honor him,” Nick Manis said.
Adjusting Due to COVID-19
The initial plan had been to complete a 30-mile run in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia as a part of the “Difference Makers” endurance challenge. Manis was introduced to the extreme endurance challenge by trainer and owner of Peak Custom Fitness Solutions Ryan Morrisey.
With the event set for mid-April, the Bayhawk began training in late February. As a part of the event, participants were asked to select an organization to represent and fundraise for. Manis didn’t think twice and selected the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. An initial fundraising campaign goal of $5,000 was launched around the time training began in February.
As the COVID-19 pandemic started altering plans around the country, Manis’ drive to do something to help and honor his uncle remained steadfast, despite the original event in the Blue Ridge Mountains being cancelled.
“I’d been training and had already been raising money so I just decided to shift it back home to Annapolis and move ahead with it,” Manis said.
Shifting things back home allowed longtime friend LJ Urie and former Maryland teammate Nick Brozowski to join Manis on the trek. It also slightly altered the plan from just a run to something a little more.
“I wanted to do something that would last just about seven hours. Last summer my uncle flew out to San Francisco and went through a seven-hour deep brain stimulation surgery to help him combat Parkinson’s,” Manis said. “I didn’t want a normal marathon, I wanted something with some elevation and that would take a little longer.”
The Bacon Ridge Trail in Crownsville, MD provided a 26.2-mile trail with over 4,000 feet of elevation. That became the first part of the test, estimating to take Manis around five and half hours. The influence of LJ Urie added the swim, giving Manis an ending to the event that he will remember forever.
“LJ likes to swim, so he’s the reason we decided to add it in. My uncle lives on the water and there’s a community pier right by his house. When we started looking at routes and places to end the opportunity to finish right in front of and see him there with everything going on these days was the perfect way to end.”
The plan was set. A 2.2 mile swim across the Severn River would serve as the final test and leg of the event for the three friends.
The Day of
When Sunday morning showed up, Manis hopped out of bed bright and early, hitting the trail at 4:30 am. Headlamps lighting the way, he began what was the longest run of his life, a grueling 26.2 miles, elevation and all.
“I’d never run over 15 miles in my life. So once I hit that 12-15 mile mark, my body really started to ache and get sore, but in the back of my mind—or I guess front of my mind—I knew what I was running for. Whether I was running, walking or even crawling, I was going to finish,” Manis reflected.
“Not finishing, it just wasn’t an option. It helped that I had LJ and Nick with me, but I was going to finish for my uncle. It was important to show him that people were pulling for and supporting him.”
As Manis and company finished the run, they hopped in a van and drove over to Sherwood Forest Community Pier where the swim would begin. Pulling up to the Pier, Nick was greeted with a surprise: his uncle Brian, along with several others.
“It gave me chills seeing him on the pier before the swim,” Manis said. “Kind of surreal to have him there and it just reinforced why I was doing this. It was something special.”
Geared up in a wetsuit, Manis dove in the Severn River for a 2.2-mile swim—although if you ask Manis, it was closer to three miles. An hour and a half after diving in, Manis, Urie and Brozowski climbed out of the Severn River in front of approximately 15 cheering friends and family at around 1:30pm.
“Seeing him [Brian Adams] before starting the swim gave me a little extra push during the swim. It was an extra reminder of why I was doing it,” Manis said. “It was hard as hell, but it was absolutely worth it.”
Manis has had big moments during his lacrosse career, so far winning championships at Maryland and with the Bayhawks, but Sunday afternoon was a special moment.
“Seeing him on the dock and finishing right in front of my uncle, nothing I’ve done in lacrosse can compare to that feeling,” Manis said.
Exceeding His Goal
When he announced his fundraising goal in February on Instagram, Manis hoped to raise $5,000 dollars. When he stepped on the dock Sunday afternoon, he had raised ten times that topping $50,000.
“My goal was just to do something for my uncle. I wanted to raise awareness and simply show him that people care about and are pulling for him,” Manis stated. “It’s absolutely crazy how it took off. I never could have imagined raising this much.”
After Manis had to shift his plan from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Annapolis, the local paper helped raise awareness. Yet, the biggest boost came from his alma mater: the University of Maryland.
Donations rolled in from former teammates, coaches and other Terps who had no connection to Manis or his father, also a former Terp, pushing him farther and farther past that initial $5,000 goal.
“It proves a point to me that I’ve always felt. To see that kind of support is what makes Maryland and Maryland lacrosse so unique and special,” Manis said. “People from all classes were either donating or reaching out through text just to encourage me. It just sums up the family atmosphere that’s there. There’s just something different at Maryland.”