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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Bobo

Manny's Last Lap

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

In long distance running, the hardest part of the race is usually the last lap.

For Manny Velazquez, his entire senior year at the University of North Florida (UNF) was one long last lap. For Manny’s last lap required multiple surgeries and many months to rehab. The running was the easy part.

Manny Velazquez, one of Jacksonville, Fla’s youngest up and coming real estate agents, has not had a normal path to his new career. Manny sold 25 homes last year and hopes to sell 40 this year. Velazquez realised he wanted to be in the real estate business when he was lying in a hospital bed in Winston Salem, North Carolina after being run over by a truck with a trailer attached to the back.

“I started to gain interest in being a real estate agent, funny, I was actually sitting in my hospital bed and the only thing I could do, I couldn't’ move my body, I could just watch tv and HGTV was on pretty much all day”.

Manny has been accustomed to pushing his body to the limits. Before he was hospitalized he had a very successful running career. In high school, he ran for St.Thomas Aquinas. Capturing a team title in the FHSAA Cross Country State Championship in 2013. During his final outdoor track season, Manny competed at a high level in the 2016 ASUN Track and Field Conference Championship. He was runner-up in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and the 5,000 meters respectively.

Manny is able to handle the pain that comes from running a long distance race, but the pain he endured that fateful day was on another level.

“After the trailer ran over by body, I was in a bunch of pain, so much pain. When you get to a certain point of pain it just stops”.

“I had a broken back. My spleen tore, which is one of the reasons I had to rush to the hospital. I had a lot of internal bleeding going on . . . My right knee was destroyed. I had to have a couple surgeries on my knee and they actually had to put part of my calf muscle on my knee cause the ligaments were destroyed. The calf muscle on my knee helps the ligaments grow back faster. I had broken pelvis, broken collar bone, and I had road rash all over my body”.

Jeff Pigg, Director of Cross Country and Track and Field at UNF, has been coaching over 30 years and he has never seen an incident like Manny’s in his career. “[We] were wondering if he’s gonna make it, when I first saw him lying there”.

If anyone was in a traumatic accident as this they would be focused on resting. Not Manny.

After three weeks in a hospital in North Carolina, the doctors were going to send Manny back to his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, but he declined. Manny was determined to finish the semester. With the help from Dee Kennedy, Associate AD of Academic Services, he was able to complete the semester.

When Manny was finally released from the hospital in Jacksonville, he was given free housing on campus by the University.

Pigg praised how Manny stayed involved and his attitude. once he was back on campus, “he had to put himself there, he had to come to practice. There’re some people that would look at that and think this isn’t fair. Manny never ever had that kind of thinking. He accepted what happened and began to move forward”.

Pigg continued, “Manny is a wheelchair made the people around him better, not in a sympathetic way, but through the effort he put forth”.

During this time, Manny started to study for the real estate exam, which he ended up passing that summer.

Manny’s kept looking at the next best thing. He completed his first run post accident almost exactly a year after the traumatic events that occured in North Carolina.

A few months later, as the semester was ending, so was the track season. This was supposed to be Manny’s senior season.

It was late April 2016, the final home meet for the North Florida Ospreys, when Manny made his triumphant return to the track. This was senior night and Manny was lined up for a 400 meter race. That’s one lap around the track.

All of the hard work in the last year was put into one final lap. Manny displayed that on a track, running it in one minute and 15 seconds.

Manny said that he didn’t know if he was going to be able to do it but he lined up in front of his teammates and fans that filled onto the track.

“As I made my way around the track, that was a very special moment to see everyone cheering for me for that minute”, Manny added.

One person that has been by Manny’s side this entire time is his girlfriend, Hallie Grimes. She talked how Manny carries himself after all of these events,

“He never gives up on anything and knows how to tackle adversity better than anyone I know and it’s because he’s experienced how fragile life is”.

Today, Manny doesn't take anything for granted anymore, “you got one life, live it, it could be gone in a second right? I wake up being positive and try to be positive throughout my life. That’s kinda been my motto since the accident”.

If anything, Manny knows how to run a hard last lap and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.

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