Michael Manyak, explorer, author and longtime supporter of Scouting, dies at 73

Michael Manyak, a world-renowned expert in backcountry medicine, member of The Explorers Club, National Eagle Scout Association vice president and Distinguished Eagle Scout, has died. He was 73.

Manyak, along with former NESA director Bill Steele and former NESA President Glenn Adams, was one of the guiding forces behind the NESA World Explorers program, which sends Eagle Scouts all over the world to conduct scientific research.

“When I went to Bill with the idea of creating a NESA World Explorers program, it was just an idea,” Adams says. “Bill knew exactly who to recruit to launch and run this extraordinary program — it was Dr. Manyak. Without Mike at the helm, this program would never have achieved the success that it has.”

Manyak was also one of the creators of the Exploring merit badge.

A urologist, Manyak was the chief medical advisor for crisis response for Accenture, a global professional services company; the global medical affairs director for GSK, a pharmaceutical company; and the chief medical officer of Triple Canopy, a private security company.

He was an adjunct professor of urology and engineering at George Washington University and a member of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine.

His 2015 book Lizard Bites & Street Riots — Travel Emergencies and Your Health, Safety, and Security is a guide to protecting yourself wherever you go, whether it’s a business trip or a backcountry adventure.

His final book, Take Two Aspirin and Call Me at 20,000 Feet: An Eagle Scout at the Crossroads of Medicine, Exploration, and Science, will be released in September 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

The Exploration merit badge

Manyak, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1964 from Troop 319 in Flint, Michigan, was so busy with school and his burgeoning career that he lost touch with Scouting for many years. That all changed when the BSA contacted him about naming a subcamp of the 2005 National Scout Jamboree after him.

“I was totally blown away by that,” Manyak said at the 2012 National Order of the Arrow Convention. “What a huge honor.”

Manyak visited the Jamboree in 2005 and was immediately hooked on Scouting … again. He returned for the next two jamborees and in 2013 found himself in a conversation with Lee Berger, an Eagle Scout and National Geographic Explorer in Residence, and Steele, another Eagle Scout and member of The Explorers Club.

“After Dr. Berger gave his presentation back at the VIP tent, he asked a good question,” Steele says. “‘Is there an Exploration merit badge?’ Mike and I looked at each other and smiled. ‘No,’ Mike said, ‘but there ought to be.’”

And right then and there, the idea for the Exploration merit badge was born. (It was officially released four years later.)

“For seven years, I enjoyed serving as the director of NESA,” Steele says. “A delight of the position were the people I worked with, planned with and with whom I made things happen, and top among those people was Dr. Mike Manyak, a true pillar among Eagle Scouts.”

The NESA World Explorers program

In 2014, Manyak, Adams and Steele launched NESA’s World Explorers program. The BSA had been sending Scouts on expeditions to Antarctica since the 1920s, but NESA leadership wanted to send more Scouts all over the world every summer.

Expeditions have included an Amazon rainforest research station, a marine biology center in the Galápagos Islands and a project focused on bald eagles in Michigan and Minnesota.

Over the years, the program changed lives and influenced the career choices of more than 75 Eagle Scouts from across the country.

The bald eagles research is done under the direction of Dr. William Bowerman, professor in the University of Maryland Department of Environmental Science and Technology. Bowerman is an Eagle Scout and a raptor expert who works with the African vulture and bald eagles, and a longtime friend of Manyak.

“He was bigger than life,” Bowerman says. “He was just amazing. He loved Scouting. He credited Scouting with his sense of adventure — it was that love of the outdoors … the things he learned in Scouting. He was extremely proud to be a Scout.”

During his professional career, Manyak led or served as medical director for scientific expeditions to the RMS Titanic wreck site, the Ndoki rain forest in the Congo Basin, the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, an Antarctic icebreaker expedition, the deepest canyon in the world in Peru, the first scientific dive in Mongolia in Asia’s second largest lake, a search for early human footprints in Tanzania, the remote Amazon Yasuni Reserve, and the Gobi Desert observing a newly discovered breed of camel.

Why was his knowledge and experience so highly thought of? Maybe because he literally wrote the book on expedition and wilderness medicine.

“We were close friends, and would bump into each other in the strangest places across the planet — foreign airports, dive hotels in Africa and India, and five-star hotels in Europe and across the Americas,” Berger says. “I spent many nights that I will fondly remember talking about expeditions, exploration strategy and safety with Mike. On several occasions, I called him from remote locations — often by satellite phone — for a consultation on an expedition-related health matter.”

In 2011, Manyak received The Explorers Club Sweeney Medal, presented annually to a member who has exhibited outstanding interest in the welfare and objectives of The Explorers Club.

Manyak (right) preparing to enter the sub that will take him to the Titanic wreck site.

Visiting the Titanic

Manyak was nice enough to speak with me on the phone last summer, shortly after the Titan submersible explosion that left five passengers dead during an attempted expedition to the wreck of the Titanic.

As both an expert on the risks associated with exploration and a person who had visited the wreck site himself, I was curious to hear about his own experience at the site. Manyak served as the medical director for a salvage mission to the Titanic in 2000, one of only two expeditions ever in which artifacts were retrieved from the Titanic wreck.

“The vast majority of trips that have gone down there were tourist trips,” Manyak said. “This was not a tourist trip.”

As medical director, Manyak’s job was to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Over the course of 10 dives, researchers used robotic arms to bring up 853 artifacts, including the telegraph, a circular piece of equipment used to transmit orders from the bridge to the engineer in charge of adjusting the speed or course of the boat; the base of the cherub statue from the grand staircase; and a perfectly preserved suitcase containing the belongings of a man who was coming to America to start his own business.

“His work shoes were in better shape than the shoes I was wearing at the time,” Manyak said.

For Manyak’s part, he had to deal with one person who tried to hide a previous medical condition that put his life in danger and another who attempted suicide by jumping into the ocean.

Manyak went on one dive to the site himself and spent about three hours exploring the wreck in a Russian submarine. It was a thrilling, exhilarating, dangerous experience, but in spite of the fact that an implosion at that depth would crush the entire sub in milliseconds, Manyak said he was confident he was in good hands.

“Our submersible was a space capsule that had been reengineered,” he said. “It was a Russian spaceship, and these guys were as serious as a heart attack. Every time it would come up, the engineers were all over it, checking bolts and looking for any stresses on the machinery. I felt very comfortable.”

There is risk inherent in many exploration expeditions. The key, Manyak told me, is managing that risk as best as you can.

“The environment on some explorations can be absolutely unforgiving,” he said. “You have to be meticulous about everything.”

Berger called Manyak a “life enthusiast.”

“He truly lived my personal motto of ‘never stop exploring’,” Berger says. “I do not think Mike would want to be sadly mourned. He lived a full, rich and impactful life. He has left the world a better understood, more thoroughly explored and safer place for adventurers, explorers and of course millions of Scouts around the world.”

 

Manyak, with the telegraph device brought up from the Titanic wreckage.

Photos courtesy of Michael Manyak

Click here to support NESA’s World Explorers program.


About Aaron Derr 448 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.