This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
“Triathlon gave me a new challenge. And I realized great things were possible in this sport, like going to the Olympics.”
It’s 1997 and Manuel Huerta is on a plane from Havana to Miami. With big, blue eyes, Manuel watches the island — his island — grow tinier and tinier until it is just a speck in the Atlantic’s turquoise waters. Gone is the only home he’s ever known. Gone is his circle of friends, the only house he’s ever lived in. Manuel cannot speak a word of English. But he is hopeful. Hopeful to start a new life with his mom, Martha, and younger sister, Claudia. Hopeful for the freedom he has only heard about through fable-like stories told by his Grandmother Consuela, who escaped Communism on a raft in 1980. Hopeful to live in a country that would never deny him his passion; his dream to become a professional athlete and represent his country in the Olympics.


Fast-forward 15 years. Manuel — now known as “Manny,” a nickname given to him by his new American friends—is well on his way to fulfilling that dream. At 27 years old, Huerta is one of the brightest talents among professional triathletes in this country. A former USA Triathlon Under-23 National Champion, he was ranked third among all Americans in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) standings last year, despite an injury wreaking havoc on the latter half of the season. Now, with a renewed spirit and a new training base, Huerta is more focused than ever on securing one of the three spots on the 2012 Olympic team.


So how does a political refugee become an Olympic hopeful, anyway? Despite its inauspicious beginning, Huerta’s journey to the top of the sport is not unlike most of his fellow pros: He spent his childhood running and swimming. Amid the chaos brought about by being uprooted from one version of life to another, sports were his constants. His teammates were his brothers; his coaches were father figures. Sports gave him a place where he fit in yet at the same time stood out.


“I was very shy at first, but being on a team helped me adjust. My teammates started counting on me, whether it was for swimming in a relay or if I was one of the top five guys on the cross country team,” he recalls. “My English improved as a result, and I felt like I had a place to belong.”


In fact, the sinewy legs that once dashed down dirt roads in Cuba went on to carry Huerta to multiple titles as a prep runner in Florida, eventually earning him a track and cross country scholarship to Florida Atlantic University. In the summers, he swam for a team comprised of inner city kids in Miami. Under the tutelage of coaches Ralph Garcia and Robert Pozo, Huerta learned about triathlon. Seeing both undeniable ability and unfettered determination in the teen, his coaches encouraged him to try the sport. In 2002, Huerta won junior national championships in both triathlon and duathlon. One year later — the same year he became an U.S. citizen—he entered his first ITU race and went on to turn in fast finishes around the world. He loved the newness of triathlon and the variety it offered over the often mundane tasks of running laps around a track or following a black line at the bottom of a pool. Simply put, Huerta was hooked.


“Triathlon gave me a new challenge,” says Huerta. “And I realized great things were possible in this sport, like going to the Olympics.”


The roots of this Olympic dream were planted long before Huerta ever donned a wetsuit or hopped on a road bike. Growing up in Cuba, Huerta became transfixed as the Olympic Games played on one of the few stations available on the government-monitored TV. And once a week, he’d slip over to the local track near his house and watch, wide-eyed, as the 1992 Olympic gold medal high jumper and Cuban national hero Javier Sotomayor trained. With every leap Sotomayor made on that dusty track, Huerta grew more and more inspired—and motivated.


Says Huerta, “Watching him, I learned that even the best athletes have to be disciplined and dedicate a lot of time to training.”


Cueing off of Sotomayor’s dedication, Huerta absorbed himself in the world of triathlon, racing frequently and consistently turning in solid performances. His talent and work ethic did not go unnoticed.


After his early success on the ITU scene, USA Triathlon tapped him as a rising star in the sport, adding him to the roster of Olympic prospects in the Project 2012 program. He made a temporary home at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, helping to fuel his trajectory to the forefront of the sport. The USA Triathlon U23 National Championship soon followed, as well as a sixth-place finish at the 2006 ITU U23 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2008, he was the youngest of the 10 Americans to race at the Olympic Trials in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


But Huerta was not long for the West. He felt a tug to return to the more tropical climates he’d been immersed in since birth. He moved back to Miami, but only for a short time. Soon, Huerta was packing up his bags yet again to train in Cartago, Costa Rica,where he settled into a room in a farmhouse built on a volcano some 3,000 feet above sea level.


USATRIATHLON.ORG USA TRIATHLON 53

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123  |  Page 124  |  Page 125  |  Page 126  |  Page 127  |  Page 128  |  Page 129  |  Page 130  |  Page 131  |  Page 132  |  Page 133  |  Page 134  |  Page 135  |  Page 136  |  Page 137  |  Page 138  |  Page 139  |  Page 140