JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
BURNET — When they’re young, people say they put on the fastest shoes in the world.
For 2004 Marble Falls High School graduate Leonel Manzano, those shoes also helped him to stay on the track.
Manzano was the featured speaker at the unBearable Fun! Run benefitting the Eagle’s Wings Retreat Center on Dec. 6.
The 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the men’s 1,500 meters thought about retiring after the London games. Negotiations broke down with Nike, his sponsor since he turned pro in 2008.
According to reports, the company and Manzano could not reach an agreement on compensation.
So the former Texas Longhorn made the decision to keep running, even if it meant paying his own expenses by using his savings. He created Leo the Lion Tees he sold through social media to help fund his training.
He recalls being in Europe to compete during the season months ago as his savings was being used.
“It was the hardest year I’d ever gone through,” he said. “I was going to be out of the sport. HOKA ONE ONE came to my rescue.”
For Manzano and the company, it’s a partnership that’s exceeded the business end.
“Leo is the right athlete for HOKA ONE ONE because he believes in our footwear, and it has played an integral part in his success as a professional athlete over the past year,” said HOKA ONE ONE Sports Marketing Manager Jennifer Collins. “Leo utilizes a variety of different HOKA ONE ONE shoes for his training depending on the workout.”
In a few days, Manzano will head to Mexico for altitude training in preparation for the 2015 season. He’s committed to running in three indoor meets, including the USA Indoor National Championships on Feb. 22-23.
His best time in the 1,500 meters is 3 minutes 30.98 seconds, which he clocked at the Diamond League-Monaco meet last summer. It’s in the top eight of the fastest times in U.S. history. He is the reigning national champion thanks to finishing in 3:38.63.
This year’s USA Track and Field Championships on June 26-28 are especially important as the top three finishers qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing on Aug. 22-30.
To help him prepare, Manzano is utilizing more aerobic work to go with his strength and speed training. He runs each day, he said.
Still, Manzano has maintained the qualities that have drawn others to him. As he was being introduced to speak to the runners of the unBearable Fun! Run, a trio of children were standing near a table that collapsed. The first adult helping the children pick up the fallen items was Manzano.
“HOKA ONE ONE knew that Leo is a great person and impressive athlete,” Collins said. “As we continue to work with Leo, we’ve found that he has an innate ability to relate to any kind of runner at any age and can share a story that can relate to that person as well. Leo is also bilingual and is an incredible ambassador for our brand within the Spanish-speaking community. Another thing that makes Leo so special is that while he is incredibly accomplished, he is also one of the most humble people you’ll meet.”
His goal is to win an Olympic gold medal and believes this upcoming season is crucial in helping him prepare, even though the Rio de Janiero Olympics are more than a year away. And after the financial challenges following the London Games, he is even more grateful than before.
“It’s gotten more special,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. It’s always been a challenge and where I found my passion in my job. If you love what you do, it’s not a job.
“I have to thank the community, the people here,” he said. “They let a boy dream.”