Martha and Claudia awoke at 4 a.m. on many weekends to set up cones and water stations for local triathlons. Because they volunteered their time, race organizers waived Huertas registration fees, which can run upward of $75.
Ayala was diagnosed with melanoma two years ago and the cancer spread to lymph glands in her legs. She underwent two operations and chemotherapy and the PET scans have been looking good, Huerta said.
Also in the past two years, his father died (he divorced Martha when Huerta was five and moved to Colombia to produce telenovelas but always maintained an amicable relationship with his children and ex-wife) and his grandmother died.
Huertas determination to go to the Olympics remained strong, tempered by his disappointment in 2008, when he dropped out of trials during the bike portion and sat sobbing on a curb.
That was a turning point, he said. For four years Ive had flashbacks of that race.
As Huerta heads to London, he wishes he could bring his team with him. It takes a village to raise an Olympic triathlete.
Huerta was inspired to be a triathlete by Ralph Garcia, who coached an inner city club called the Phantoms. Garcia hustled donated gear for the kids, borrowed bikes, drove them to races, trained them at Hadley pool and Amelia Earhart Park.
Manny was never physically imposing, but he had a big heart, said Garcia, who works at Footworks. Of all the kids, he persevered.
Huerta was encouraged to run by Jackson High coach Jose Negron. He received a scholarship to FAU from coach Alex Smolka. Robert Pozo, a Miami Marathon founder, got Huerta his first top-notch bike, a purple Fuji. The Hammerheads club welcomed him. The Cuban owners at Bikes To Go poured him Cuban coffee and tuned his Orbea. Lisa Dorfman gave him shoes and nutritional advice. Mike Estevez, owner of Pinecrest Fitness, held a spinning fundraiser for him. Even Fidel Castros sister, Juanita, made a donation.
Huertas psychologist, chef, massage therapist and training partner is his girlfriend, Pierina Luncio, 28, whom he met in Argentina.
Manny? asked Miami triathlete Mickey Witt one morning at Marti pool when she and Huerta climbed out of the water. I saw you in the lane next to me and I was so excited. We are so proud of you. Youre motivating all of us.
Huerta said he was grateful for the support and gave Witt a hug. Another regular at the pool offered to help Huerta arrange lodging for his family with a friend in London.
The day before, Huerta had gone running with Belen High students and their coach, Frankie Ruiz. They had visited him in Colorado Springs.
His sister Claudia, a Navy officer in Virginia, said Huertas quest has had a ripple effect. She was injured in a boat accident in Kuwait, broke three vertebrae and both feet, was told she wouldnt walk again.
Today, Im running, Claudia said. They told me there was no hope. They told my mother she wouldnt survive cancer. They told Manny he would never be an athlete.
We didnt accept those answers and now were all going to London.