The track oval has been his playground since Grade 5 where he ran shoeless, but swifter, against bigger and older kids. Now, this once shoeless little boy has now conquered numerous running competitions including Ironman 70.3 and the Boston Marathon to name a few. Get to know Coach Rio dela Cruz’s sole and soul, how he did it and what it took him to where he is today.
Coach Rio is indeed conquering the world kilometer by kilometer. His love affair with running started in fifth grade when he volunteered to run against two of his classmates when their track and field coach, in Industrial Valley School in Marikina, asked his classmates to try competitive running. Despite him being a “saling-pusa” he finished first.
But as he went to sixth grade the unfortunate happened: he suffered from shin splint that hindered him from competing further in the track and field division. As with all inopportune circumstances, this door has been closed. But in reference to the old adage of a door closing, a life-changing window sprung open for him in the form of long-distance running.
“I gave my injury chance to recover then joined my first ever 5km. race soon after. But there was a problem,” remembered Coach Rio. “I was over aged for an elementary student so I registered under the high school category. I won and that was where my running career started.”
Running barefoot competitively from Grade Five until First Year High School, Coach Rio didn’t let the rather painful and scraping earth he was stepping on get in the way of his dreams. So much so, that he was more than ecstatic on the day he was given his very first running shoes.
But alas, the young Rio never seemed to get through without trudging on rocky and hurdle-infested paths. There was a teensy bit of a problem, again. The shoes were a tad small for his growing feet that he had to cut off the forefront of both shoes to expose his struggling toes and be able to wear it. And fit, it did! Devoid of shame, this record-breaking rookie of the year awardee blazed his own path until he was able to achieve a degree of Bachelor of Physical Education, College of Human Kinetics, University of the Philippines, Diliman where he later on became a part of as a coach.
Running gives back
Coach Rio, shared that running—like electricity to a light bulb and spider senses to Spider Man—gives him power like no other.
With running, he added, people living a sedentary lifestyle can become healthier and less prone to sickness and injuries when paired with proper food and vitamin intake. With running, anyone can be super.
Aside from the healthy benefits that running has given Coach Rio, it has also showed him how to have a life free from hunger and poverty.
“It suddenly occurred to me that running would not put food on the table,” his blog read. “I needed a fallback plan, in case my running career didn’t take off, or I become debilitated either by a running injury or old age. While I probably won’t go hungry working as a Physical Education professor, I felt that life had so much more to offer. And so, with nothing but my ambition, passion for running, some start-up money, and my saliva, I dabbled into the world of events organizing. And with that major shift in priority, my running career has taken a back seat since then.”
Since then, a handful has happened in this Afro hairdo-sporting running machine. From being a shoeless school boy to a Timex and Nike endorser, to an ambassador of running and fitness in the Philippines, Coach Rio has proven that running is more than just moving the legs in a fast, alternate motion.
More than the motion itself, running, for him, became his source of inspiration and success.
“I have the luxury of time to think of the things that have happened and are happening in my life each time I run,” he shared. “It’s also de-stressing because I think of nothing but positive things like I pretend that I am competing in the Olympics. Running gives me a certain high that I cannot exactly explain.”
Swifter by the kilometer
To date, Coach Rio has conquered Ironman 70.3 with his relay teammates and the recent 42km. Boston Marathon—and he’s nowhere near stopping.
“I want to leave a legacy that because of running, I was able to somehow change the world and contribute to the improvement of lifestyle of people in my country in my own little way,” he said.