Making it to the Olympics is a lofty dream for most athletes, but for Miami triathlete Manny Huerta, it's now a reality. Last Saturday, Huerta competed against 70 other athletes, including six Americans, from across the globe in the ITU World Triathlon held in San Diego, finishing in ninth to land one of the two coveted spots on Team USA.
Huerta's journey to becoming an Olympic athlete is just your usual tale of a Castro-fleeing Cuban immigrant honing his skills on the side of an active volcano in Costa Rica.
"It's been my whole life preparation," Huerta said. "I've been working so hard and I've made so many sacrifices."
He will join American and four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper, who finished in fifth place, to represent the United States during this summer's
Olympic games in London.
The path to make it to the Olympics was not an easy one for 28-year-old Huerta. It started while he was a young boy in Cuba watching the Olympics games on a state-run television, inspiring him to become an avid runner and a swimmer.
But his opportunities were limited living under a totalitarian socialist regime. In 1997 Huerta and his family defected from Cuba with no money and no English skills. He continued running and swimming, training for the upcoming cross country seasons in high school. Then he developed a fascination for triathlons at the age of 15. He earned an athletic scholarship to Florida Atlantic University.
After competing in a few triathlons, he realized that he was better on a national level, and in 2005 he turned his attention to training full-time in at the U.S. Olympic Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He met fellow Miami triathlete Boris Fernandez in 1999 during a competition and the two became friends. Fernandez flew to San Diego to support Huerta.
"A triathlon is very psychological, a lot of things can happen during a two-hour race and you have to remain calm," said Fernandez. "To go to the front you have to take a lot of risks and its very dangerous because people are fighting for it."
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If there's one move behind his success, it's his training regimen. In 2010, Huerta moved to Costa Rica with fellow triathlete Leonardo Chacon and his trainer Robert Solano to work out on the side of an active volcano.
He slept in a farm village at night and trained by day at 7,000 feet in altitude. His training regimen consisted of swimming six times a week, three miles each time; biking four times a week and running 45 miles a week.
"I'm very, very happy that I was able to make the team," Huerta said. "If you work hard for some things you will get them."