UCSC Alumnus Leo Merle wins Gold for Team USA at the 2023 Parapan American Games

Merle sets eyes on the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games

Leo Merle competes at the Parapan American Games on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Santiago, Chile. (Joe Kusumoto, USOPC)

UC Santa Cruz alumnus Leo Merle (Rachel Carson ’20) won the gold medal in the Men’s T38 1500-meter race at the Parapan American Games on Nov. 21. 

With a time of 4:12.62, Merle defeated Canada’s Robert Stanley (4:13.60) and Columbia’s Jhonier Gomez (4:26.15) to earn the gold for the United States.

The Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 are a key stop on the road to the Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024. The Parapan Games host the world's top competing para-athletes from the Americas and serves as a 2024 Paralympic qualifying round for many sports. 

“Going into it, there were a lot of expectations,” Merle said in a press release. “We’ve been training really hard this entire winter, so I just trusted the process and the training I did have. For me, it was just so important to make it as comfortable as possible for myself.”

While he was a student at UCSC, Merle competed as a Division III track and field athlete for four years where he participated in countless events and posted several competitive times.

It wasn’t until 2019, his third year of college, that Merle competed as a para-athlete for the first time in Minnesota at the U23 U.S. Nationals. Merle has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects mobility, posture and balance. 

“I didn’t know about the broad spectrum of para-athletics until my junior year (of college) when I started doing the research and signing up for nationals and whatnot,” Merle told The Michigan Daily in a 2021 article. “I didn’t have any special accommodations and I didn’t really think anything of it.”

Merle went on to set the U23 national record for the 5k among T-38 (a disability sport classification for those with cerebral palsy) athletes in his first-ever race as a para-athlete. 

After his gold medal win at the Parapan American Games, Merele has his eyes set on the 2024 Paris Paralympics.

“I really enjoy that slow to fast pace, that kind of break-neck change, so for me it was exactly what I wanted and we executed the mission exactly as we wanted it to be done, and I can’t be happier or prouder of the performance.”