He can go seven-eight miles and still have enough energy to chase horses and birds, Huerta said.
Life at the volcano reminds him of his days in the ocean, when his mind could float.
Huerta decided to leave the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs three years ago when he found ideal conditions in Costa Rica.
In Colorado Springs, we went through several coaches and I had no say on my training plan, Huerta said. And, in Costa Rica Im training with people from other countries so we are not competing and thinking, I got to beat that guy this weekend and hes going to hate me Sunday night. Its tough to be friends with a guy who wants your spot.
Its working. Huerta, the third-ranked American triathlete, and native Floridian Hunter Kemper, ranked fourth, were not supposed to qualify for the two spots on the U.S. team. But they did by virtue of their point totals after an international race in San Diego in May. Kemper finished fifth. Huerta had to finish ninth or better to make the Olympic team.
He finished ninth. By nine seconds.
The underdogs did it, he said. I knew I needed the race of my life. After the bike I was fourth or fifth. But in the last mile of the run, several guys passed me. I lost track. I was fading.
When I came through, people were yelling, You got it! But I wasnt sure. I counted heads in the finish area and when I realized I was No. 9 by such a close margin I got very emotional.
He cried, and his mother and Huerta believers all over South Florida cried as they watched the webcast.
Martha Ayala, 50, was told by doctors that her son would always have coordination problems on his left side after a difficult birth caused neurological damage.
The forceps squeezed part of his skull, Ayala said. No one thought he would be good for anything.
Ayala read that swimming could help Huertas development.
When he was 22 days old, I took him to the beach and held him in the water, she said. Gradually, he learned to swim.
She also enrolled him and his younger sister Claudia in swim classes.
It was my mothers will that got me to where I am, Huerta said.
Ayala believed in her childrens futures, so she left Cuba and her career as a university physics professor behind in 1997, and began anew as a nobody in Little Havana, just as her mother had done during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Manny spoke no English. He joined the swim and cross-country teams at Jackson High to make friends and pursue his Olympic goal.
Ayala worked double shifts as a waitress at a Latin American cafeteria and a pizza parlor. When her mother opened a driving school, Ayala became an instructor and has remained one. She knows how to teach, but teaching people how to drive in Miami is like teaching someone how to garden in a desert.
Muy dificil [very difficult], she said with a smile. You are trying to show people how to do it right when everyone around them is doing it wrong.
Money was always scarce.
I remember when my mother was finally able to take us to Disney World, Claudia said. At the turnstile, she paid for our tickets with coins and dollar bills she had been saving for that occasion.