tampabay.com

Amy Scherzer's Diary

By AMY SCHERZER
Published July 6, 2007


Tampa police Officer John Manning was patrolling east of Ybor City when the message blinked across the squad car's computer screen.

"Wanna do 10-10?" it said, code for meal break.

Seeing Tanya Solana's call sign, he typed eagerly: "10-4."

Earlier that morning in July 2006, Manning had joined Solana's patrol squad in downtown Tampa. During roll call, she recognized the handsome motorcycle cop who had stopped to see if she needed backup during a traffic operation the previous year.

On April 5, 2007, marriage made that backup permanent.

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Solana remembered him, from Harley to helmet.

"Especially his boots, " she said, describing how motorcycle cops tuck their extra thick uniform pants into tall boots.

Over lunch, they chatted like the professionals they are.

Manning, 30, went to work for the Tampa Police Department in October 2000, a graduate of the U.S. Justice Department's Police Corps program in Jacksonville.

After graduating from Bloomingdale High School, Solana, 26, majored in international studies and Spanish at the University of South Florida. She dreamed of a career in the foreign service, but seeing a canine unit moved her to enroll in the police academy. The Tampa Police Department offered her a job before she even graduated.

Rumors flew as the officers met for lunch every day. Both were ending other relationships and appreciated a sympathetic ear.

The "just friends" status changed the first time they met out of uniform, for coffee at Starbucks in south Tampa. Solana brought photo albums from her extensive travels and studies abroad.

"It was the spark in her eyes when she talked about her trips, " he said. "She brought pictures from places I can only imagine."

The Semester at Sea program run by the University of Pittsburgh took Solana to ports in Cuba, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Japan, South Korea, Alaska and Canada.

"I missed Vietnam and China because of SARS, " she said, still disappointed.

Previously, she studied Spanish for a month in Costa Rica and six months in Argentina; toured Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela; scuba dived in Tahiti; and visited family in Spain and Mexico.

Manning shared her wanderlust, having toured Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France on a motorcycle in 2004.

As he fell for her adventurous spirit, Solana was falling in love with Manning's unfailingly positive attitude. A side effect, he told her, of being a cancer survivor.

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The University of Massachusetts recruited St. Petersburg native Manning for its swim team in 1995. A month before school started, during a sports physical, he showed the doctor a mole on his back.

A biopsy came back: Stage 3 melanoma.

"A friend noticed it at a swim meet, but I didn't think anything of it, " he said. "They did a wide excision and then I left for Amherst."

Toward the end of his freshman year, after placing eighth in the New England Championships in the 200-yard freestyle, he learned the melanoma had spread to his upper body and groin. He had surgery at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute that summer and learned how to give himself interferon shots, every other day for a year.

"I went back for my sophomore year and woke up every day with a fever, " Manning said. He transferred to the University of South Florida on an American Cancer Society scholarship and graduated in December 1999.

Since then, he always finds time to share his motivating story on behalf of the cancer society.

"Walkathons, kids camp programs, fashion shows, anything they need, " he said.

An impromptu dance lesson one evening in October 2006 finally gave Manning an excuse to hold Solana's hand.

"We were walking on the beach, and I said I'd show her how to line dance if she taught me to salsa, " he said.

"I was so nervous it felt like high school, " she said.

The next step was to inform their supervisors that they were a couple. That led to Manning's transfer to an east Tampa squad, which soon led to a marriage proposal.

"We were with about eight or nine guys, all cops, at Howl at the Moon, " Solana said. One of the dueling pianists at the popular Channelside bar called her up to sing Happy Birthday to one of their friends.

She was perched on the piano when he called up the other guys, who fell to their knees, to sing the Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.

"A total Top Gun moment, " she said, referencing the 1986 hit film.

Manning remained on one knee when his fellow officers took their seats. Solana noted something box-shaped in his pocket.

"Police instinct, " she said, with a laugh. "We're trained to look for weapons."

The audience cheered when Manning asked his best friend to marry him.

The Mannings wed at the Rusty Pelican and honeymooned in St. Lucia. They're house hunting this summer, as they await the September birth of a daughter to be named Solana.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.