Olympian Manzano gets a hero’s welcome in Marble Falls, Granite Shoals

MARBLE FALLS —It was a celebration worthy of a hero.

Hundreds gathered in the Marble Falls High School auditorium Sept. 30 to welcome home Leonel “Leo” Manzano, who won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter race during the 2012 London Summer Olympics.


PHOTO 1: Leonel ‘Leo’ Manzano holds the Olympic silver medal high as members of the Marble Falls High School band play the school fight song. Manzano is a 2004 graduate and set numerous track and cross-country records when he was a student there. Staff photos by Jennifer Fierro


PHOTO 2: Marble Falls High School 2004 graduate Leonel ‘Leo’ Manzano greets friends and fans as he walks into the high school auditorium Sept. 30 for a pep rally to congratulate him on winning the silver medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.


PHOTO 3: Alfredo Mata (left), a friend of the Manzano family; Jesùs Manzano, the father of Olympic silver medalist Leonel ‘Leo’ Manzano; and Leonel Manzano hold shovels that were used during a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 30 at the Leonel Manzano Hike and Bike Trails at Granite Shoals City Hall as Granite Shoals Mayor Dennis Maier introduces the men.


PHOTO 4: Jesùs Manzano, father of 2012 Olympic 1,500-meter silver medalist Leonel ‘Leo’ Manzano, shakes Granite Shoals Mayor Dennis Maier’s hand after Maier presented the Manzano family a proclamation honoring the runner Sept. 30.


PHOTO 5: Former Granite Shoals Councilwoman Bessie Jackson greets 1,500-meter Olympic silver medalist Leonel ‘Leo’ Manzano when he arrives at the Marble Falls High School auditorium Sept. 30 for a celebration pep rally in his honor.


Manzano, who hails from Granite Shoals and graduated from Marble Falls High in 2004, said winning an Olympic medal in August was a everything he thought it would be and more.

To honor his achievements, the cities of Marble Falls and Granite Shoals held homecoming receptions for the Olympian on the same day.

“I wasn’t expecting as big of a turnout,” Manzano said. “So I’m real excited to be coming home and celebrate with everybody. It’s a very special moment.”

Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger served as the master of ceremonies for the one-hour event at the school, which started about 3 p.m.

National recording artist john Arthur martinez, who is from Cottonwood Shores, sang a tribute song he wrote for Manzano, “Dare to Dream Out Loud.”

The runner said he hoped his success inspires other Marble Falls Independent School District students to work toward their dreams and not give up.

“If you put your mind to it, do something you like and enjoy it,” he said, “you can do anything.”

At least two students said Manzano has done just that.

“It’s pretty great,” said Marble Falls High School junior Jesùs Perez. “He came out of a small town, and it shows a hero can be great.”

“The first time I saw him running, it changed it my life,” said Marble Falls Middle School eighth-grader Anthony Machuca. “We know him. Look how well he’s done. He said, ‘Have a dream, work hard for it.’ After that I started working harder in sports and everything.”

The Marble Falls coaches who helped train Manzano, Karen Naumann and Kyle Futrell; former Granite Shoals Councilwoman Bessie Jackson; and former coaches Gary Fletcher and Chris Storer asked the runner, 28, questions submitted by the audience, including whether he wants to qualify for the Rio de Janiero Olympics in four years.

He said yes, which— if successful — would make this his third trip to the Olympics including his run in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, where he placed 12th in the 1,500 meters.

Marble Falls Mayor George Russell pointed to a display with letters from elected officials around the state and a flag that recently had flown at the state Capitol in the runner’s honor, which brought cheers.

After the race in London, Manzano said he fell to his knees. Foremost on his mind, he told the audience, were thoughts of all the people who helped him and the hard work it took to earn the silver.

Bill Rives, executive director of the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce, danced onstage with fruit hat on his head to greet and congratulate Manzano, which ended the ceremony.

The Chamber plans to dedicate this year’s annual Christmas display, known as the Walkway of Lights, to Manzano, he said.

“Something like this ought to last a day or two,” he joked. “It’s one more way we’ve recognized our hometown hero. What an outstanding guy he is.”

The runner used the last hour to sign autographs, take pictures and encourage youngsters to surpass his many accomplishments. Fellow Marble Falls High graduate Ashley Laughlin gave him a quick hug.

During Manzano’s student days at the high school, he claimed nine 4A state championships in track and cross country. After graduation, he moved on to the University of Texas, where he won five NCAA National Championship titles and holds four school records.

Jesùs and Maria Manzano, Leonel Manzano’s parents, were in the first row to at the high school to observe it all.

The younger Manzano was born in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mexico, and moved with his family to Texas when he was 4.

“I have a lot of joy for my son,” Jesùs Manzano said as he surveyed the long line of people wanting to get an autograph or a photo with the Olympian.

Later that afternoon, city officials and other dignitaries in Granite Shoals, where his family still lives, held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Leonel Manzano Hike and Bike Trails.

The runner handed out shovels to children to help dig and then council members, Mayor Dennis Maier and Klaeger, along with Manzano, grasped the shovels to symbolize the construction of the 2-mile, 8-foot wide trail system.

Afterwards Maier handed out proclamations on paper and granite in the shape of Texas to the Manzano family.

The silver medalist thanked the crowd in English and Spanish for their support and for inspiring him to keep dreaming, then went into City Hall to sign autographs.

Maier said the goal was to have an event worthy “of an Olympic champion.”

“He’s one of the best young men you can imagine,” he said. “His dedication is inspiring to all of us.”

Jackson agreed.

“Especially in his giving back,” she said. “He gives back to his community.”

It has been a whirlwind week for Manzano. He visited Washington, D.C., Sept. 27 to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month thanks to an invitation from Vice President Joe Biden. He then flew to Miami Sept. 28 for an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, one of the top Hispanic television journalists in the country.

The athlete actually arrived in Marble Falls a day earlier than the engagement at the high school and Granite Shoals.

He attended a benefit dinner conducted by St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church at Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls to provide funding for a parish building project.

Manzano said he plans to make the U.S. World Championship Track and Field Team and travel to Russia next year.

Manzano also just celebrated a birthday on Sept. 12.

 

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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