JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — Now that Karen Naumann is retiring as the Marble Falls Middle School girls athletic coordinator, she was asked to answer once and for all who gets the credit for helping former Mustang Leonel Manzano become an Olympic silver medalist.
After all, Naumann traveled with Marble Falls High School track-and-field coach Kyle Futrell and Manzano to national cross-country and track meets when the athlete was in middle school. And she has said repeatedly that Manzano, even when he ran in jeans and boots as a sixth-grader, would finish every race she put before him in under the time she challenged him with no matter the distance.
So her answer?
“God, because He gave Leonel the talent,” Naumann said without hesitation. “And the community. We as a team have all helped him in some form or fashion. We had a lot of support from the community that opened a lot doors.”
And, of course, she said, Manzano himself.
Her answer helps explains why she spent all 30 years at Marble Falls Middle School when she had opportunities to go elsewhere. Naumann wasn’t one for the spotlight, she said. Instead, she was happy preparing middle school students for the battles that would come as varsity athletes.
At the same time though, Naumann made some history herself. When she was hired in 1985, middle school girls practiced two sports during their athletic periods, basketball and track and field. Volleyball, golf and tennis were practiced after school. Naumann and Eve Klein were the only coaches to teach during the athletic periods. For years, the Lady Ponies won district crowns in both sports. As a high school student, Naumann set running records at Burnet High School in the 400 yards, the 800 yards and the 1,600 yards. And since the University Interscholastic League changed the measurements from yards to meters when she graduated in the early 1980s, Naumann is still the record holder for those distances.
“That’s just something I like to say to mess with people because I didn’t like to get beat,” she said with a laugh.
She was a runner for Tarleton State University in 1981 and 1982, though she really wanted a basketball scholarship. In 1982, she was awarded the Fighting Texan award for leadership, hardest worker and fighter “in pushing the limit and breaking times,” she said. That also was the year she was the silver medalist in the Trans American Athletic Conference while racing against higher-rated runners and competing with stress fractures on a shin that forced her to quit the sport.
“They told me if I wanted to be able to walk when I was old, I must quit putting that mileage on my legs,” she said. “That’s why that win means so much to me because it’s pure guts and mental toughness that was I able to fight and overcome. It takes a lot of mental toughness to push through the pain, especially the long distances.”
In 1996, Naumann was quick to start a cross-country program at Marble Falls Middle School when she had the chance. The result was district championships in the seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls divisions each year until 2002. In 2003 and 2004, Marble Falls won three of the four divisions and then returned to capturing all four in 2005 until 2011. Since 2012, the Ponies have finished as at least a runner-up in one division.
Part of the reason the Ponies might have been successful is because Naumann would often run with the youngsters until 2001, when she finally had to have knee surgeries. Since then, she started riding a bike to protect the health of her legs.
“Our sport is other people’s punishment,” she used to tell her runners. “It’s a mindset. They’re doing things others wouldn’t do.”
While Manzano might be the most well-known runner in Marble Falls, Naumann noted she coached other talented athletes dating all the way to the late 1980s with Amy Whittle and Misty Smith; in the 1990s with siblings Lane and John Berkman; and finally in the 2000s with Ashley Laughlin, who was a pole vaulter for the University of Texas at Austin, Angela Akins, who was a golfer at the University of Texas and Anissa Angelosante, who was a runner for Oklahoma State University. All three were state champions in their sports their final year of high school in 2004.
What pleases the coach, she said, is seeing her former students become positive members of society as they have families, pursue careers and become leaders in their communities, including Marble Falls Independent School District board of trustee Kevin Naumann, her son.
“I never dreamed he was going to be my boss one day,” she joked.
In her retirement, Naumann said she wants to start a service for the elderly, taking them to run errands or to their appointments. The idea came as the result of helping her neighbors years ago. It won’t be something she does for the money, she said. Rather, she feels led to do it.
She said she is retiring on her own terms, noting she didn’t decide to purse a career in education for the salary – it was always about working with people and helping children be all they could be. Naumann said she is leaving knowing the coaching staff will continue to add to the legacy of Marble Falls athletics.
“We’ve had good athletes come through,” she said. “I think it’s going to continue to improve.”