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Kayaking Mississippi Would Fill Another Chapter for UT Senior

Published: October 11, 2011
Hector Manley ’12 has plans to kayak the entire Mississippi River this summer.  Photo by Chelsea Michelson '12
Hector Manley ’12 has plans to kayak the entire Mississippi River this summer. Photo by Chelsea Michelson '12
Hector Manley ’12 was born during a civil war in El Salvador. At 11, he lost both of his legs when Central America’s largest earthquake to date left him at the bottom of a ravine filled with burning trash for more than 30 minutes. In 2005, he was adopted by American parents who helped fit him with prosthetic legs and offered to help him get an education.

Now close to earning a bachelor’s in advertising and public relations, Manley wants to add another adventure to his already seriously colorful life.

This summer, Manley has plans to kayak the Mississippi River – not just a portion, the whole thing – all the while raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project and the Wheelchair Foundation, in an effort he’s calling Paddling for a Purpose .

“I’ve always loved adventure,” said Manley who will be joined by his American father, Don, and American grandfather, Larry, for the 2,700-mile trip beginning in mid-May. “I thought it’d be something I’d remember for my whole life.”

An avid golfer, Manley has his certification to teach youth golf. He’s a writer who was published in this month’s Golf Digest and hopes to capture the Mississippi River experience in a book. He’ll enroll in a self-study in the spring to help him with the framework for the endeavor.

The trip will start in Duluth, MN, and continue south to New Orleans, LA, veering slightly off the true end of the Mississippi. He estimates a three-month journey paddling 30 miles daily.

“It’s going to be more mentally challenging than physically,” he said.

Following Manley, his father and grandfather will be a manned power boat where the three will eat and sleep, and where Manley will store his golf clubs. A regular competitor in amputee tournaments, Manley plans to play golf in each of the states along the journey.

The boat also will tow several additional kayaks for friends and family who want to join them for portions of the trek. Manley’s UT roommate, Michael Weber ’12, is from a Wisconsin town where the Mississippi cuts right through. He’ll meet up with the group from there and paddle for a section.

During the journey Manley will be giving presentations at Rotary Clubs to raise funds and awareness for his two charities of choice. His connection to Rotary goes back to his time in El Salvador. After the earthquake, he stayed for an extended period of time in a children’s hospital in the capital which receives funds from Rotary. The Manleys, who serve on the hospital’s board of trustees, were visiting from Florida and by chance, Karen Manley met the young Hector. Realizing he was without access to proper prosthetics in his home country, the couple stepped in.

“Growing up I didn’t have shoes, but it wasn’t a big deal because others didn’t,” said Manley, whose parents and four siblings still live in El Salvador. Manley visits about twice a year. His parents came to Naples, FL, for his high school graduation and he plans on them returning for his UT commencement.

He said if he had remained in El Salvador he’d be confined to a wheelchair and, more than likely, uneducated. Losing his legs is a tragedy he feels “really opened up the doors to everything.”

“Absolutely everything about my life would be different,” said Manley. “I really believe things happen for a reason. I’m the luckiest guy around, absolutely.”

He’s marked with two tattoos, one each on the inside of his biceps: a sun with seven rays, one for each of his family members back in El Salvador; and the Spanish phrase “Hasta La Victoria Siempre,” a war phrase meaning never accept defeat.

For Manley, the phrase could be a motto for his life. As he looks to finish his college career and take on the Mississippi, he has one thing guiding him.

“Honestly, I feel I always want to do my best, and I want to help people,” he said. “This trip is one way to get me started. That’s how the Manleys raised me, and I want to be like them, to help as many people as I can.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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