The first time that Leo Manzano showed up to cross-country practice, he didn’t wear running shoes. Clad in work boots, jean shorts, and a dress shirt, he didn’t know about the supportive training shoes that would help him for the workout with the Marble Falls Middle School track team. While unprepared from a gear standpoint, Manzano persuaded his parents to let him run while working part-time to help support the family. Showing up to practice was his decision.
That first day at the track, he was prepared in the way that matters most.
Hoping to encourage the budding talent, his coach Karen Nauman gifted Leo Manzano with his first pair of running shoes. Those shoes logged many miles at the beginning of a historic career that has spanned almost two decades. Manzano has nine Texas state titles, five NCAA championships, and an Olympic silver medal. He earned it in London at the 2012 Olympic Games. That journey began with initiative and a pair of running shoes.
About a month ago, Manzano returned to his hometown and shared the same gift with the current Marble Falls High School cross country team. He collaborated with his professional sponsor Hoka One One, the Schrader 1600, and local running store Fleet Feet Austin. Manzano gave a new pair of shoes to every young runner at his alma mater. As an athlete whose life was transformed through running, he wanted to extend the same support that was shown to him.
“That was the reason why this was so special,” Manzano told Back the Track. “It kind of brought it back to the beginning for me. Hopefully, even if it makes a difference for one of them, it can change somebody’s life.”
On November 7, Leo Manzano and Ari Perez, the operating partner of Fleet Feet Austin, surprised the Mustangs squad. They arrived at practice with a van filled to the brim with Hoka Cliftons. The Clifton is a supportive shoe with lightweight, responsive cushioning. It’s ideal for putting in training miles on the track, trail, and road.
For Perez, giving the gift of running shoes provided a monumental connection to the local running community.
“To be able to offer that [new footwear] and highlight Leo and what he’s done, you know, he was literally in their shoes. It was humbling,” Perez said. “Will that make a difference down the road for these young men and women? We hope so. That’s how Leo got to be where he is and making that connection back to them is amazing.”
After receiving the new shoes, the team, led by head coach Chris Schrader, ran a few laps around the same track where Manzano completed his earliest workouts. That track is now named after the Olympic silver medalist.
Jogging in lanes one and two, Leo Manzano talked with the young runners. He shared fond memories of his experience running for his high school team. He even pointed out the resting spot in the corner of the track where he would often throw up between hard intervals.
That drive to be great was supported by an inspiring coach who gave one of the most important gifts Manzano would ever receive.
“I’m very grateful because that’s where I got my start as a runner. For me, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to do that. I’m so grateful that I’m able to give back,” Manzano said.