Even though Olympic silver medalist Leonel Manzano retired from professional running two years ago, the sport still serves as his compass. And he’s guiding others.
The former Granite Shoals resident and 2004 Marble Falls High School graduate is on a mission to help amateur runners turn their passion into athletic scholarships and perhaps a career, the same thing others did for him when he was younger.
As an ambassador for shoe brand Hoka One One, Manzano travels to meet young athletes, share his story, and offer guidance.
“I’m an athletic representative,” he explained. “My job is to help guide athletes. My job is youth running and youth events. Hoka One One is a big supporter of youth events. Through Hoka, one of my main jobs is we find underprivileged running high school groups. We support them with running shoes and apparel.”
As a child, Manzano immigrated to the United States when he was 4 years old. His family eventually settled in Granite Shoals. While attending Marble Falls Middle School, a coach noticed his running ability and set Manzano on his future career path. Through middle and high school, he received critical support and encouragement from coaches Karen Naumann and Kyle Futrell and former Marble Falls resident Jim Weil, one of his biggest advocates.
“(Weil) knew how to talk to people, and I didn’t know how to speak well (at the time),” Manzano said. “Through that, we were able to fundraise money to go to all these competitions. Things come back full circle.”
By the time Manzano graduated from Marble Falls High School, he had nine state championship titles in track. He continued running at the University of Texas before embarking on a professional and Olympic career. At the 2012 London Olympics, Manzano won the silver medal in the men’s 1,500 meters.
As a Hoka One One ambassador, Manzano has also worked in the film industry. One project was helping with “McFarland, USA,” a movie about California cross-country coach Jim White and his Latino runners,
“The movie has a similar story to myself,” Manzano said. “It’s a farming and working community. (The runners) find their way to becoming better after finding a good coach. They won 25 titles. It’s a good family movie.”
He tried coaching but said that venture helped him see how he could be of better service to young runners.
“It was a great redirect,” Manzano said. “For me, I say I guide people to other coaches.”
He also hosts “Leo’s Learnings,” a summer podcast aimed at youths in which he interviews runners of all levels.
Despite his achievements, Manzano is still the same good-natured, humble person he always was. On April 16, he returned to Granite Shoals for Whittlesey Landscape Supplies’ grand reopening. He spoke about his friend Jim Weil, who no longer lives in the area, as Weil’s daughter, Kimberly Weil Whittlesey, listened. Manzano was happy to help her and her family celebrate an important moment in the family business.
After the ribbon cutting, as he reflected on his life and what running has helped him accomplish, Manzano felt blessed.
“It was good for that time being,” he said. “I loved it, I enjoyed it. I got to travel all over the world. I appreciated what that was. I still look at it with a lot of gratitude. Now, I have more time to spend with family and friends.”