Fighting Through Physical Challenges and 20 Surgeries, Manny Alonzo Emerged as a Champion for Marginalized Communities
March 04, 2024

Manny Alonzo was born with a congenital condition called fibular hemimelia; he does not have a left fibula, a major bone in the lower leg, or connecting tissues like the ACL, PCL or MCL. The condition caused a significant difference in each leg’s length, resulting in him having more than 20 surgeries, procedures and operations throughout his life. 

But despite years of medical struggles, he was determined not to let his disabilities stop him from pursuing his dreams.  

“I embarked on my most current series of surgeries with the goal of extending the length of my left femur by 2 inches so that it better aligns with the length of my right leg,” Alonzo said. “Before beginning these latest procedures, I decided I would come out of them as the best possible version of myself, and I knew that required me to obtain a degree.” 

After enduring numerous surgeries, he found a doctor at Stanford University Medical Center in 2019 who could perform the surgery. Now 35 years old, Alonzo completed his undergraduate degree in English at Stanislaus State this past December. He is the first in his family to earn a college degree and is now pursuing a master’s degree in English with a focus on disability studies. 

Growing up in San Bruno, where he attended Capuchino High School, Alonzo started his college career at Modesto Junior College in 2019 and transferred to Stan State in fall 2022. When he first went back to school, he initially planned to get an associate degree but was inspired to continue his education.  

“All of my recent successes are a direct reflection of the support I’ve received from my peers and instructors,” Alonzo said. 

“Manny is a standout for overcoming many challenges to be at our University,” said Professor of English Stephanie Paterson, who taught Alonzo in two of her writing classes. 

“Manny is a strong writer,” Paterson said. “I was moved, entertained and inspired by his writing. He has experienced significant challenges, which he has written about beautifully.” 

Alonzo credits the guidance and mentorship he received from his English professors for his academic growth and development. They provided opportunities for him to go beyond the intended themes and structures of their classes to include disability studies perspectives and analyses into his research papers and presentations. 

“Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to advocate for a marginalized community of people. I use it in my day-to-day encounters to dispel common disability myths and stereotypes.”

- Manny Alonzo, B.A. in English

Paterson nominated Alonzo to attend the First Amendment Leadership Conference in South Carolina and represent Stan State. He learned more about First Amendment rights and deepened his understanding of the importance of free speech on college campuses.  

At the conference, Alonzo met students from Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown and Oregon State universities and described the experience as the most intellectually stimulating weekend he’s ever had. 

He is now an advocate for people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. Alonzo has developed a keen interest in disability studies, an interdisciplinary field that focuses on understanding disabilities from a social, cultural, historical and political perspective. He believes this subject area is rarely explored outside of large institutions. 

“Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to advocate for a marginalized community of people,” he said. “I use it in my day-to-day encounters to dispel common disability myths and stereotypes.”  

Alonzo says the time he has spent at Stan State has been special and allowed him to form lifetime memories he will always cherish. 

“I am grateful to Professor Paterson for believing in me,” Alonzo said. “The relationships I’ve made have motivated and influenced me in more ways than my peers will ever understand.”   

He has also begun preparing for the LSAT so he can attend law school, where he plans to focus on constitutional and civil rights law. Additionally, he was nominated to join the National Society of Leadership and Success, the nation’s largest leadership honor society.  

As he looks to the future, Alonzo is looking for work that will allow him to give back to his community in the greatest way possible. 

Paterson sees great potential in him. 

“Sometimes, one enthusiastic learner is all a classroom needs to up the ante for everyone,” she said. “I hope he receives this both as a gift and encouragement as he pursues his next endeavor, which will undoubtedly be great, because he’s the kind of guy who gives 110 percent.”