Leo Manzano An American love story
By Max Lockwood
At this year's historic Boston Marathon, I was able to make an arrangement to meet Leo Manzano. Leo, as many know, is one of our great American distance runners. He is a champion who, for over a year, was running without a contract and confidence. Recently, through the tutelage and savvy negotiation skills of Merhawi Keflezighi, Leo signed with Hoka One One, a new and innovative running shoe company. Hoka One One is new on the scene but is quickly making strides to be a primetime player in the running market. Owned by Deckers Outdoors Corporation, Hoka One One has a strong team in place and a creative marketing plan to ensure their product has an excellent chance of success in the highly competitive running shoe market.
One of Leo's first assignments as a Hoka One One athlete was to do some work at their booth at this year's Boston Marathon.
Finding this out, I reached out to Hawi and Leo for an interview and they agreed. I was excited, as I had always been curious about this 1500-meter runner. Somewhat small in stature, his signature kick combined with a fierce determination has always made a strong impression on me.
On the Friday evening prior to the Marathon we met at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Boston and proceeded to sit down at the hotel Starbucks and chat running. At our first meeting I was impressed with Leo's large smile and optimistic energy. He was not only outgoing but obviously completely comfortable talking about his running and life. As we sat down and chatted, Leo was both gracious and humble as he described his rigorous training schedule that includes no rest days and 3 days of intense weight and flexibility work. More than perhaps any runner I have interviewed, Leo seemed passionate and fired up about his commitment to strength and flexibility. Says Leo " Max, my strength training and flexibility work is essential to my success as a runner. Obviously running is the most important but making sure my legs are strong and loose and that there is no restrictions or imbalances is key for keeping me injury free and running at a high level."
A promotional photo from HOKA ONE ONE for Leo Manzano
As we moved along in the conversation, Leo enthusiastically described his racing and training and his passion for competing and racing was obvious. He spoke of his accomplishments and in particular, of his getting a silver medal in the 1500 at the 2012 Olympics. Obviously, getting a medal at the Olympics would mean a great deal to anyone. It is no different to Leo. Says Leo..."Getting a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics is my highest point of achievement as a professional athlete. I have done many other things in the sport I am proud of but that sits on top of the list."
Throughout the conversation, it was obvious to me that Leo loves running and the gift it has given him to be successful and help make his way in the United States.
Leo as first generation American and pushing his way forward: The trials of becoming a first generation American success story.
It goes without saying that anyone who is a first generation American, who is new to this country and its ways, has a good deal to learn about our values, our culture and just the basics of how to navigate through mazes of rules and cultural norms scattered throughout American society. With this being said I continued to follow up with Leo about his family and what it means to be a successful Mexican American runner. One of the first items I probed him on is how important it was for him to be a first generation successful Mexican American and who he attributes this success to. Says Leo..."I credit my success to the values instilled in me by my parents. My parents struggled to adapt to a new way of life in the United States, and have made many sacrifices so that my siblings and I could have a better future, including but not limited to being separated from my grandparents who reside in Mexico. I am compelled to win as a Mexican American runner because I am aware of what it has taken to have this opportunity, and giving up is not an option. My parents set their own expectations high and they have led by example. This is the least I could do to compensate for what my parents sacrificed for me. Not doing my best would be like not appreciating their efforts. Many Mexican American families relate with my life experience as an immigrant. The reality is that it is not that easy to overcome the myriad obstacles, and when Mexican American's see me acknowledging them, they feel represented at last. I represent the USA with great pride, without forgetting where I came from, which is part of my identity. This does not mean I am less American, it just means that I have been blessed with the best of two cultures and like many immigrants, I can understand and appreciate both. I am an American by choice."
Leo Manzano, BAA Mile, April 19, 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net
And so as Leo finished describing this experience, it was and is clear that as a newcomer to the US and someone who shares another culture, he is highly in tune with his role as a US citizen. I continued to probe him a bit further about how he perceives his role as a highly accomplished Mexican American athlete. Says Leo.. "I am honored to know that I am in fact a role model, not only for Mexican Americans or other Hispanics, but also for people of various backgrounds. As we all know, minorities have been underrepresented not only in sports, but many other sectors. This, for me, brings so much responsibility. I have the opportunity to speak for many who do not have a voice and help demystify the misconceptions of a minority that is often generalized with negative stereotypes."
Obviously Leo needs support, guidance and inspiration in his life to keep the energy and drive going. Says Leo.. "My family plays an important role in my life. I have been blessed with a beautiful son and a supportive family. Though my family does not entirely depend on my success, I do have a sense of responsibility to help them achieve their goals in any way I can."