By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Years before she was one of the best distance and open water swimmers in the world, Becca Mann also competed in biking and running.
Born into a family of triathletes, Mann became adept at the two land-based disciplines, but it was in the water – among the elements and marine life – where she really excelled.
Now, having focused just on swimming for the past few years, Mann is coming into her own on the senior international competition scene – and she’s happily writing her own story.
“I was doing triathlons as early as 7 years old, but swimming was always my best and the one I enjoyed the most,” said Mann, who turned 17 a few weeks ago. “Swimming in the competitions was a great education for me once I started competing in open water events.”
In fact, it was the triathlon competitions as a youngster that eventually got Mann interested and involved with open water swimming. She did her first 10K at 7 years old, and said she immediately loved it.
By the age of 12, she had qualified for her first 5K at Open Water Nationals, and she was well on her way. At 14, she was second in the 5K at Nationals, by 15, second in both the 5K and 10K events, and by 16, she was first in the 10K.
She represented the United States at the 2013 Open Water Worlds, finishing 8th in both the 5k and 10k. With the 2015 Open Water World Championship team being selected this year based on Open Water Nationals in April, Mann said she is excited about the prospect of competing in both Open Water and in the pool next summer at Worlds in Kazan, Russia.
It was goal she set in 2012 but didn’t attain. Now, with a couple of years of competition and experience, she feels like she’s in an optimal position to reach those heights.
“I am really excited that I can potentially be the first American woman to compete in both Open Water and pool events at the same World Championships,” Mann said. “I had thought it would be possible in 2012 for the Olympics (she finished three spots off the team with fifth-place showings in the 800 freestyle and 400 individual medley events and was sixth in the 400 freestyle) – which also would have been a first for an American – but I didn’t swim as well as I wanted. That proved to be a great learning experience for me, and I’ve used what I learned since then to get even better and faster.”
A first sign came at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships when she won gold in the 1500 freestyle and silver medals in both the 400 IM and 800 freestyle events.
She improved even more this past summer at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships when she finished third in the 800 freestyle and fourth in the 400 IM and earned a spot on the Pan Pacific Games team.
A few weeks later in Australia, she placed fourth in the 800 free, and as the second-ranked American swimmer, qualified for next summer’s World Championships.
“I’d been hovering close to earning a spot on one of the senior international teams but wasn’t quite there in the past; this summer, I proved I was ready,” said Mann, who was fourth in the 200 butterfly and 400 IM events at 2013 Nationals. “Everything that I’ve done in the water has helped prepare me better for what’s still to come. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years leading up to 2016 Olympic Trials and the Olympics.”
A junior in high school, Mann has already started investigating future college choices but hasn’t narrowed anything down yet about her final destination. When she’s not swimming or excelling in the classroom, she spends her time living out her science fiction fantasies through her writing.
This October, she published a book she started several years ago and is already working on sequels.
Available (and selling well) on Amazon.com as well as in Barnes & Noble stores, Mann’s fanciful “The Stolen Dragon of Quanz: The Eyes Trilogy” chronicles life in “the land of tribes where people are defined by the color of their eyes…”
“I started writing it when I was 11 as a hobby, but I really enjoyed doing it because I enjoyed being able to control the story,” Mann said. “I’ve always been a big reader, but I always wanted to be able to dictate and control the way the story flowed or ended, and when it’s someone else’s work, you obviously can’t do that. When it’s your own, you can.”
Mann said reviews of the book have been good (Five stars by most critics), and she’s well into the second sequel in the trilogy. She said she kind of already knows where the story will end, but, you never know.
She also knows she is in control of her swimming destiny and where and how it could end.
But with so much ahead of her, she said she is content right now to ride the wave and enjoy the journey.
“I have gained so much confidence this year, especially in the pool, and I am looking forward to what’s coming next year and in 2016 and beyond,” said Mann, who moved to Baltimore in 2013 to train with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) while her family remains in her Illinois hometown. Her parents take turns traveling to Baltimore to spend time with her and she is home-schooled.
“Living largely on my own while still in high school has been good for me. It’s made me very independent, which I was before, and it’s taught me to be very self-sufficient and responsible for myself. That has translated to the water, and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me get where I am – and where I’m going.”