No matter how history assesses his performance at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, one thing is for sure: Leonel “Leo” Manzano is already a victor to the people of the Highland Lakes.
One of the world’s fastest runners in the 1,500-meters, this young man from Granite Shoals is proof the America dream is alive and well.
This son of immigrants, who himself is an immigrant, continually exemplifies the lesson that no matter where you come from, you can achieve your dreams if you work hard and have enough ambition.
It also helps to have people along the way who believe in you, and Manzano, 27, had plenty of supporters while he was a student in the Marble Falls Independent School District.
Though Manzano has also enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame as a world-class athlete, beginning with records he set as a school student all the way to his standout achievements today on the international stage, he remains a humble, soft-spoken person always mindful of his roots and his community.
In addition to the nonprofits he aids in Austin such as his own Leo Manzano Foundation, Manzano makes frequent return visits to Marble Falls to speak to children and give back to the community.
His discussions on the importance of eating right, proper exercise and staying in school probably make a deeper impression on young ears than dozens of lectures in a classroom.
Even more important, Manzano leads by example. Each step of his life is a lesson in overcoming obstacles and never giving up, no matter where you come from.
His own roots are very humble. He originally lived in Mojoneras, a small farming town in central Mexico with no electricity or running water, a place where children were expected to start supporting the family at an early age.
But just as important, when his family moved to Texas in 1988 when Manzano was only 4, they made it clear to the runner that school was also extremely important.
He listened to his family, and in addition to racking up the trophies on the track, he continued his studies as well.
He graduated from Marble Falls High School in 2004 and from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Spanish and Portuguese, with a minor in business.
His achievements today are nothing short of stellar.
At Marble Falls High, he won a total of nine Texas 4A state championships in track and cross country.
At UT-Austin, Manzano was a four-time NCAA champion (outdoor 1,500 meters in 2005 and 2008, indoor mile in 2005 and 2007). He holds the school records in the 1,500 meters (3:35.29), indoor mile (3:58.78) and distance-medley relay.
And only three weeks after winning his last college competition, Manzano qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a runner-up finish at the 2008 United States Olympic Trials. During his races at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he ran 3:36.67 in the qualifying rounds and placed 12th in his semifinal.
Yet in spite of all the records and the awards, Manzano is more than just an award-winning athlete to the fans and friends here at home.
He is a shining example that you can have dreams and achieve them, as long as you believe in yourself. That’s a lesson as good as gold.