Leonel Manzano’s humble beginnings as a Olympic runner began in his native Guanajuato, where, as a youngster, he often ran with his grandfather.
Manzano celebrated his silver medal achievement and a podium appearance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. It was his second appearance in the Olympic Games, the first was in 2008 in Beijing.
His family had immigrated from the Guanajuato, México when Manzano was about four years of age. They settled in Granite Shoals, Texas, where he achieved an American education and earned numerous running accolades prior to his qualifying for two Olympics.
“Running wasn’t very common in the region in México, where my family comes from. Sports is always looked as something of a past time,” said Manzano, who won nine Texas high school state 4A championship titles and is the fastest one-mile runner in Texas history.
He was in middle school when he decided to pursue running.
Manzano, 33, shared with strategies about his work ethic and up-bringing with nearly 200 people at McFarland High School on Sunday (Oct. 1). He’s seen McFarland USA twice, and was eager to see the school that inspired an entire community.
Prior to receiving a scholarship to compete at the University of Texas, Manzano earned his 4A titles winning twice in the 800-meter, the 1,600-meter, and twice in the 3,200-meter events in high school. He won three cross country titles for Marble Falls High.
Manzano first learned that he loved running while racing his grandfather Isaac Manzano in Guanajuato.
“He may have been about 40 at the time on the rolling hills of Guanajuato. I was four at the time. It’s something that I’ve always just loved and enjoyed,” said Leonel, a two-time NCAA titleholder and 6-time all-American while with the Texas Longhorns.
He earned his silver medal in the 1,500-meter event finishing in second place with a time of 3:34.79 at the London Games in 2012.
He draped the American and Mexican flags around himself then took a celebratory victory lap.
“That’s pretty just having an Olympic medalist coming out here. It’s great. These kids, just like him, he said he came from México, and his parents didn’t believe he was going to make it to college,” said Jesús Campos, a running at Fresno High School and an avid runner who has competed in the Boston Marathon.
“I believe his story is very inspiring just knowing his background,” said McFarland High runner Dede Salcedo.
“Not even knowing that he would make it there (Olympic Games). He never gave up with all the injuries he’s been though. Going through injuries, you have to be mentally strong as well as physically.”
Salcedo lined up for an autographed photo with Manzano.
According to McFarland High running coach Amador Ayón, Manzano appeared with the help of a friend, Eric Aguilar, and through Corredores Sin Fronteras.
“It turned out well. I’m glad the local budding community came out,” said Ayón.
These days, Manzano is contracted with Hoka One One, an athletic shoe company, and the morning of his appearance at McFarland High, he already had trained in Sacramento.
“I ran 15 miles this morning,” he told the crowd, which included former and current McFarland High athletes and others.
“I’ve seen the movie (McFarland USA) twice,” said Manzano, “Anytime I talk to people, I say, ‘Follow your passion, and do what you like to do,’ because you really don’t know where it can take you.”
Manzano, who currently lives in Austin, Texas, will train for the upcoming indoor events.