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Column: ‘Two Mannys’ give Cathedral High cross-country state title hopes

Two teenage boys sit next to a running track
Junior cross-country runners Emmanuel Perez, left, and Emmanuel Hernandez could lead Cathedral High to a state championship.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)
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They’re called M&M, Little Manny and Big Manny, and the two Mannys.

It’s sometimes confusing watching juniors Emmanuel Hernandez and Emmanuel Perez run for the L.A. Cathedral High cross-country team. Sometimes they’re inseparable and when reporters ask to speak to “Emmanuel,” the response is, “Which one?”

They finished second and third, respectively, at the Mt. SAC Invitational Oct. 22 and have led Cathedral to a No. 1 ranking in Southern Section Division 4. Neither knew of the other until Perez showed up last year at Cathedral. Now they push each other and run as a tandem, with no limit to where it might lead.

Hernandez set the school record for 3 miles at 14 minutes 31 seconds Tuesday at the Del Rey League finals. Perez set the school record for 3,200 meters in track with a time of 9:12.

Sixty miles a week they run together around the hills of Elysian Park, passing the wonders of Dodger Stadium. When they race, they think of the sacrifices made by their parents, each of whom came from Mexico.

Hernandez’s mother is a single parent who cleans houses. Perez’s father works countless hours as a mechanic fixing semitruck diesel engines. They’re dirty, demanding jobs, and the sons never forget what hard work leads to.

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“I always think of her in my races and want to make her proud,” Hernandez said of his mom.

“I think of my dad,” Perez said. “How much he works for me. I want to show him what I’m working on. He gave me the opportunity to go to school and I’m trying to show him. I want to make him proud.”

Yes, classmates are incredulous when told that Hernandez and Perez are running 60 miles a week.

“Are you crazy?” is the typical response.

The Mannys love it because all the practice and preparation lead to being able to endure the pain that comes with trying to finish strong in a 3-mile race.

Pain comes with running, but they say it’s more mental than physical.

“When I have pain during a race, it’s all mental,” Hernandez said. “I tell myself I can finish, I can’t give up.”

Aldo Infante grew up in Hollywood and never played a team sport until his senior year, when he played quarterback for a previously winless team and let it to a 5-4 record.

Oct. 30, 2022

Said Perez: “You’re exhausted and have to try to kick. It’s more mental.”

Asked what hurts most while running, they said first the calves start to tighten. Then the hamstrings. Then the whole body. The pain threshold is a test of wills.

“You try to tell yourself to keep running,” Perez said.

Martin Farfan, the Cathedral cross-country coach, believes both Emmanuels have the chance to be among the best in the state.

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“Being the head cross-country coach for 27 years at Cathedral, I have never had a one-two combo like them,” he said. “They both will break all the school distance records at Cathedral.”

The state championships are Nov. 26 at Woodward Park in Fresno. Cathedral will be a contender in Division IV. But are they ready to take on the Young twins, Leo and Lex, from Newbury Park?

It could be the Mannys vs. the Twins. Talk about confusion watching four athletes tough to identify with your own eyes.

“They’re too good,” Hernandez said. “They’re a whole different level. Maybe for track season.”

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