Hector Manley was born and raised in El Guayabo, a small mountain village in El Salvador. In this village, the dirt streets have no names, and electricity in the home is considered a luxury. He enjoyed a normal childhood in El Salvador filled with friends and fond memories. Born into poverty during the civil war in which his father was a soldier, he realized at a young age that life would not be easy. His family home was destroyed in October of 1998 due to a hurricane and again two years later due to an earthquake. School and soccer were his favorite pastimes. He also loved visiting the local garbage dump, where a child could find just about anything.
On January 13, 2001, everything changed for Hector in an instant. As he played along the edge of a ravine in which garbage was burned, a magnitude 7.1 Earthquake hit. The edge where he stood quickly fell into the ravine, taking him the bottom, where fire burned over 70% of his body. He was stuck in the smoldering garbage for over 30 minutes until a brave gentleman was able to lift him out with a shovel.
Minutes later, a garbage truck returned to the ravine and drove Hector to a clinic. He arrived to find the clinic building had also crumbled. With the doctors cut off from their supplies, all the injured were left standing outside. So they drove to Sonsonate, an hour away. The doctors there could not help him. At this point, Hector was still in shock, and was told that when the pain hit, perhaps in minutes or hours, it would be too much for someone his age to handle, and he would die.
He was transported to a children’s hospital in San Salvador. With the roads destroyed, the trip to the hospital took nearly four hours. On the way there, he could see countless bodies on the side of the road and families crying over lost loved ones. The first doctor he saw at the children’s hospital told him how fortunate he was to have made it to the hospital.
In the following hours, the doctors amputated Hector’s legs. Following surgery, Hector spent over three months in the children’s hospital. Because the children’s hospital in San Salvador was the only one in Central America, it was filled with children injured from the earthquake. During this time, Hector’s family lived in a makeshift tent, just enough to protect them from sun and rain. Hector found accepting the fact that he was an amputee very difficult. He would no longer be able to play soccer with friends and attending school would be challenging in a place where wheelchairs are nearly useless, due to the mountainous terrain.
In the hospital, Hector met an American couple on the hospital’s board of trustees of the hospital—Mr. and Mrs. Manley. They were in the country as part of a Rotarian group with the purpose of helping the injured victims of the earthquake. When he was released, the Manley’s traveled to his village to ask his parents how they could help Hector with prosthetics. Of all the various international groups and charities offering help, his parents trusted the Manley family because of their willingness to meet Hector’s needs.
In April of 2001, the Manley’s brought Hector to their home in Ohio. That fall, the Manley’s enrolled him in sixth grade. In addition to the challenges of learning English and assimilating to the culture, Hector had to learn to walk again. The Manley’s treated Hector as their own son, and later, after discussions with his parents in El Salvador, they decided to adopt him.
Hector learned English quickly, and progressed through both middle and high school as an honor roll student. Hector began to play golf, and in less than two years, he was able to play varsity golf and captain his school’s team in Florida. Because of his intense passion for the game, he has worked with The First Tee Golf Foundation. Through his work with the foundation, Hector introduces underprivileged children to the sport of golf, teaching them golf and developing relationships with them. Additionally, Hector has competed in many amputee golf tournaments around the country; his story of perseverance was featured in the November issue of Golf Digest Magazine and many newspapers across the U.S. and El Salvador.
Now a senior at The University of Tampa, Hector plans on kayaking the entire Mississippi River in order to raise money for The Wounded Warrior Project and The Wheelchair Foundation. Hector’s passion for helping others grew out of his desire to give back in light of the support he received. Prior to his trip, Hector spent one week at a homeless shelter while building homes for Habitat for Humanity in Southwest Florida. He has also worked alongside Peace Corp representatives and church service groups in El Salvador.
Kayaking became one of Hector’s favorite activities soon after moving to Florida, and now after graduating in May 2012, he plans to pursue his dream of kayaking across the country from Minnesota to New Orleans. The trip is approximately 2,400 miles. Hector plans to accomplish this goal in 100 days.
One of Hector’s goals in life is to write a book about his experiences. He hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams. Being a double amputee has not held Hector back; rather, it propels him forward. Hector remains very thankful for all the opportunities he has been given, and in return, he wants help other around the world.
Fun Facts About Hector
- He has the key to the city of Naples, Florida.
- He gets very scared watching scary movies.
- He is the 2nd of 5 children within his Salvadoran family, and all of his siblings live in El Salvador.
- He is the 3rd of 3 children in his United States family.
- He got his first pair of shoes at the age of 6.
- He was awarded The Triumph Award for overcoming obstacles alongside Bob Woodruff, an ABC News Reporter.
- His favorite sport is soccer.
- He won three leadership awards in high school.
- His best golf score was 74 for 18 holes and 35 (-1) for 9.