When Becca Mann staggered onto the Maui beach after nearly 21 hours of swimming, her arms felt like fire, her eyes had nearly swollen shut and her tongue resembled raw hamburger.
She couldn’t wait to do it again.
The USC screenwriting student had traversed more than 35 miles of open ocean, crossing the channels among Hawaii’s Maui, Molokai and Lanai islands, an agonizing feat that had never been done before. The 21-year-old fought through 5-foot swells, dozens of jellyfish stings and a relentless current that coaxed hot tears to flood her goggles.
“When I finished, I looked like a pufferfish,” Mann says. “But it was such an incredible experience.”
Becca Mann, USC Student and Born Competitor
Less than two weeks later, Mann was back in the ocean battling waves for another competition. Few things make her heart pump like the freedom and adventure of open-water swimming.
“I love that you can’t control anything — the weather, the temperature, the currents,” she says. “It’s all about your ability to keep going, to not give up, to push through the pain.”
I love that you can’t control anything — the weather, the temperature, the currents,” she says. “It’s all about your ability to keep going, to not give up, to push through the pain.
Born into a family of triathletes and raised near Chicago, Mann started carving up the waters of Lake Michigan at age 6. At 10, she swam from Lanai to Maui. She set national records before high school. “I was a very intense kid,” she shrugs.
Olympic dreams flared by her early teens. Intense training with top coaches like Randy Reese and Bob Bowman got her close several times, but injuries and setbacks forced Mann to reassess. Maybe she needed to explore other passions.
Creative Outlet in Words and Stories
She had fostered a talent for writing, publishing her young adult novel, The Stolen Dragon of Quanx, by age 16 and earning a coveted spot in the USC School of Cinematic Arts screenwriting program. But Mann couldn’t stay away from the water. She split her time between penning scripts and competing on the Trojan swim team.
In 2019, a familiar yearning returned. While training in Colorado, she impulsively emailed the founder of the World Open Water Swimming Association, seeking a feat nobody had conquered. A response came moments later: the Maui Nui triangle swim.
The longest distance Mann had covered before, 25 kilometers, paled in comparison to the 58-kilometer crossing. No bother. She lined up a support team. Within months, she was slathering on zinc oxide and lanolin before ducking through the waves into Pailolo Channel.
An emotional swirl of triumph and torment followed. Amazement at the phosphorescent sparkles at her fingertips with every nighttime stroke. Blinding frustration at the grinding current that slowed her progress to a crawl between Molokai and Lanai. Unreasonable anger at her seasick mother when food drops from the supply boat came a minute or two late.
But when she pulled her shaky body onto the sand, Mann had no regrets — only a desire to find the next obstacle to overcome. Whether returning to the water or pursuing her dream of running a television show in Hawaii, she’s always looking ahead.
“I love challenges,” she says. “Every few years, I get an itch for an adventure.”
Read Becca Mann’s account of her record-breaking swim on her website.