The sun has yet to come up, but junior Ali Manske has just started her day. She isn’t up early to take a shower or perfect her makeup. Instead, she’s working out. She spends every morning doing 50 push-ups and 100 sit-ups on her bedroom floor. And she does a set of five pull-ups on a bar on the back of her door.
After school, she runs. Every other day Ali runs for two minutes and walks for one minute, then repeats this 10 times.
She does this because she is training in hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, located in Annapolis, Md. Ali dreams of becoming a lawyer for the Marine Corps, in honor of her father, retired United States Marine Corps colonel Mike Manske, who passed away Nov. 26.
“I’m trying not to let this consume my life,” Ali said. “But it is a really big goal that I have, so I’ll do whatever it takes. If I don’t get in at least I can say I put in 110 percent effort.”
To get accepted into the Naval Academy, Ali must complete a physical, have a high GPA, be in the top 10 percent of her class, score well on her ACT and SAT and get a letter of nomination from a U.S. senator or representative.
“I want to make [my father] proud,” Ali said. “Even though I know he’s already proud, it’s just so much more motivating to think if I did this for him how awesome it would be.”
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Growing up, Ali had to learn to adjust to the military lifestyle and living without her father from time to time.
“My dad was stern and strict,” Ali said. “He didn’t really talk about how he felt. He ran our household like he ordered his troops around. But he was still always there for you and protective.”
In the early 2000s, Mike had two tours in Iraq: Iraqi Freedom 1 and Iraqi Freedom 2. In Iraqi Freedom 1, Mike fought in combat. When he went back for Iraqi Freedom 2, Mike’s mission was to help the Iraqis fix their government, so he was not in as much danger. Still, just being deployed in Baghdad put him at risk. Ali and her sister, freshman Molly, were constantly worrying and thinking about him. The girls had to prepare themselves for their father’s death at a young age, just in case.
“We would email him daily to try to keep him in the loop,” Ali said. “He would call us with a really static connection from Baghdad probably once a week. It was really hard without him.”
Two years later in June of 2006, Mike was in a severe motorcycle crash, which put him in a coma for a month. Once again, the girls had to prepare themselves for the fact that their dad may not make it.
The accident left Mike with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He wasn’t able to walk or talk. He didn’t know how to eat. Mike lost his short term memory as well. The first time he saw Ali after the accident, her mom, Amy, had to tell Mike who she was.
“He was able to remember things from his childhood, but he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast that day,” Ali said. “He had so many memories of his dad, he would talk about him all the time. It felt like we had met him even though he died when he was 45.”
But the accident didn’t just have negative outcomes; he became more caring and attentive. That’s what Ali’s grateful for.
“We grew accustomed to [his condition] and it became something we learned how to deal with,” Ali said. “It was really rough, but I was so thankful because he gained so much. He had so many near death experiences, and I think he finally realized that one day he actually is going die. He changed the way he views life, and he instilled that in Molly and I.”
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After he retired from the Marines, Mike was a lawyer, acting as Ali’s inspiration. This past year, she had the opportunity to write a bill through the Youth in Government (YIG) program. In honor of her father, Ali wrote a bill that requires everyone to wear helmets when they ride a motorcycle.
“I think that our government has a right and a duty to prevent death,” Ali said. “[The bill] is clear and obvious, and it takes no extra effort on their part.”
Ali’s bill went through mock legislature where it basically did what a real bill would do during Kansas legislature. It was passed through the YIG Senate, and is currently sitting on Kan. Governor Sam Brownback’s desk.
“He’ll probably decide soon if he wants to continue with it,” Ali said. “It’s cool to think that he’s looking at what I wrote.”
Ali was sitting in sixth hour on Nov. 26 when teacher Steve Klein walked in. He asked her to gather her things and follow him to the office.
“Immediately I’m going through my head thinking of worst case scenarios,” Ali said. “I’m bright red and everybody is looking at me.”
Ali’s mom was waiting for her in Dr. Krawitz’s meeting room, along with Molly. When she saw Molly crying, she immediately knew something had happened to her dad. Her mom informed her that Mike had a heart attack that morning. Ali wanted to leave, not wanting to make a scene.
“It was embarrassing,” Ali said. “I’m the kind of person who would rather lock myself in my bedroom and cry alone.”
Although Mike’s heart attack was unexpected that day, Ali assumed that it would happen eventually. Mike has a long family history of heart attacks. He had also made some unhealthy lifestyle choices in the past few years; when he woke up from his coma, he was smaller than 100-pound Ali, so he began to eat a lot in order to gain the weight back. Mike also began to drink heavily when he returned to work to cope with the feeling that his colleagues were discriminating against him because of his TBI.
“He was literally a walking heart attack,” Ali said. “He just tried to drink away his problems, and he definitely didn’t take care of his body.”
From Mike’s tours in Iraq, to the motorcycle accident, Ali knew she would someday soon have to face life without him.
“I knew that the years that he was alive between the motorcycle accident and his death were extra years; he was living on borrowed time,” Ali said. “He wasn’t supposed to make it through, so I had prepared myself for the fact that he wasn’t going to make it which that made it a little bit easier on me.”
However, Ali feels that some people don’t understand that. They don’t get that she had already prepared herself for his death multiple times. And she doesn’t miss the fact that he’s not always around anymore, because she’s used to it — her parents have been divorced since 2000 and her dad would have to leave for extended periods of time. Instead, she misses his advice and military insight.
“I know that this Annapolis thing would be so much easier if he was here,” Ali sad. “He has so many connections there. But I know it’s just the challenge I need, and that I can get over it. I just miss the advice and everything he taught me. But I have a lot to take away from his life, and that’s what I try to remember.”
Ali has always looked up to Mike, but after his death he has become her inspiration.
“I was always interested in law,” Ali said. “I never was really into being in the military. But recently I found out you don’t have to go to the military just to fight in combat, so that’s how I got interested in being a lawyer for the Marine Corps.”
To do so, Ali must first get into the Naval Academy. Before Ali is able to become a military lawyer, she must learn how to fight in combat.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I can do this without him,” Ali said. “But then again that gives me so much more motivation.”