Online Gamer, Basketball Player, Mountaineer, Recreational Runner, Blogger, Weekend Warrior

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rio de la Cruz: Big Hair, Big Goals

Original article by: Bianca Gonzalez

Nobody can miss his trademark Afro hairdo. He has personally trained some of the country’s most admired personalities like Fernando Zobel, Lance Gokongwei, and Piolo Pascual. He is the head organizer of the metro’s biggest races like the Timex Run, Milo Marathon, and Unilab Run. And in the past couple of years, his name has become synonymous with running in the Philippines. Who would’ve thought that a boy who used to run barefoot in Camarines Sur would grow up to ignite Filipinos’ passion for running and be a multi-millionaire?

Photo taken from here

Here are 10 things you should know about Rio de la Cruz.

1. Rio started running because he wanted to play but couldn’t afford computer games. He couldn’t afford running shoes either, so he ran barefoot.

“Wala akong Gameboy, yun yung uso nun eh. Since wala akong perang pambili ng ganun, yung means of entertainment ko is agawan buko, patintero, taguan,” says coach Rio of how his love for running began. He shares that his opponents back in elementary wore “spiked shoes,” and since he had no means to buy, he preferred to run with no shoes on because it felt lighter. “So mas kumapal yung,” he laughs as he strokes his soles, “yung ano, balat sa ilalim.” He was once given hand-me-downs by his neighbor but it was a size too small so he cut the part of the shoes by the toes just so his feet would fit. Later on, having saved from winning races, the very first pair he bought were Chuck Taylors, thinking that it would last long because the soles were thick. He was in sixth grade at Industrial Valley Elementary School, when his would-be high school coach spotted him and recruited him to Quirino High School, where he eventually finished on a full scholarship.

Coach Rio shares that running is what motivated him to finish his studies. “Yung parents ko, separated, at walang pang-support sa akin, so natakot ako baka hanggang high school lang matapos ko,” he recalls. At the time, he learned about students who were scholars through running, and says: “Nagkaroon ako ng idea na pwede pala yun, so I wanted to pursue running para maging stepping stone ko to finish my education.

2. When he was a competitive runner for the University of the Philippines, he set a separate training schedule for himself where he would sleep wearing his running sando, shorts, and socks, as if ready to go. 

Sa gabi, maliligo na ako. By 8p.m. tulog na ako. 9 p.m. late na yun. Matutulog ako nakabihis na para paggising ko ng 2:50 a.m., toothbrush na lang, sapatos, derecho takbo.” he says 2:50 a.m. because by 3 a.m., he has to be running already. He would then go home by 6 a.m., sleep again, then wake up in time for his 10 a.m. class. It was in the afternoons when he would join the rest of the running team for their easy 5k and 10k runs. He even worked up the confidence to talk to the coach of the National Team back then, to train with them in Baguio. All the hard work paid off because in his freshman year, Rio won Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore year, he won one gold and one silver medal. In his third year, he won gold on all his races, which was a first for UP then.

However, things changed during his senior year. He didn’t place as much in the races, and even failed to finish one. “Mas mabilis at mas bata talaga sila noon, tapos nung time na yun, nahati na talaga yung oras ko sa school at trabaho,” he reveals. Rio shares that in his early college years, his time would be split 50-50 for school and training, but in the later years, it changed to 70-30 since he had to focus more on his grades.

As for his famous hair, he shares that he grew it because of a peso-sized bald spot on the right side of his forehead. Since long hair wasn’t allowed in elementary and high school, he finally got to grow it out in college, and has kept it ever since.

3. Rio has worked hard to give himself a better life, and now, he is helping his family better their lives by teaching them to help themselves.

Kung baga, teach them how to fish.” says Rio who is the youngest of his siblings but seems to be acting like the eldest. He is the youngest of seven siblings, and he has another seven younger half siblings. He shares that his siblings now take on different roles during the races he organizes, from putting up the banners, to manning registration, and just recently, cooking for the catering of events. “Mahirap yung bibigyan mo lang o aabutan mo lang, gusto ko matutunan nila na bago nila makuha, paghihirapan muna.” His siblings were not able to finish school like he did, and so now, Rio is helping his nephews and nieces so they can finish school. He recalls that when he was a child, his carpenter father took him and his siblings to help out in the construction sites he would be working on, and now, they are all working together again. They all grew up away from each other, and now, his ultimate goal is for them to live in houses right beside each other.

4. Coach Rio in numbers:

10: age he started running
2007: year he put up his company, Run Rio Inc. 
32: length in kilometers of the “Afroman distance,” a race distance he created to be the in-between of the 21k half marathon and the 42k full marathon.
50-plus: number of running shoes he has on rotation. “Dati 100, pero hindi ko nagagamit lahat tapos napamigay ko yung iba.
1,000 to 1,500: pesos estimate cost per runner in the races he organizes. 

His personal best times:
5k: 16 minutes, 10 seconds
10k: 29 minutes, 34 seconds
21k: 1 hour, 11 minutes
42k: 2 hours, 31 minutes

5. On his fiance Nicole: “Na-realize ko na kailangan ko ng isang tao na pwedeng mag-support at makaka-understand sa lahat ng gagawin ko. At siya yun.

They met in 2004, when Rio was lost in the middle of the race, and she was the one who pointed him in the direction of the finish line. He won that race. A week later, he rode the jeep in UP only to find her seated in front of him. They became friends since, but were in touch with each other on and off. “Pag single siya, ako may girlfriend, pag ako single, siya naman may boyfriend.” he recalls. He says that what he learned from his experiences with his exes helped him make this relationship stronger, and in fact, he has been praying for him and Nicole to be together. “Sabi ko, kung hindi kami magkatuluyan, feeling ko wala na. Kaya nung sinagot niya ako nung October, sabi ko, ‘This is it!’”

Rio popped the question to Nicole on Dec. 22, 2011, and the proposal video currently has 416,525 views on Youtube. (It is a must-see slash tear-jerker, and if you haven’t seen it yet, look up “Tadhana: Coach Rio’s Proposal” online.)

6. When he had difficulty juggling all his priorities at the same time, he asked himself, “Ano ba yung gusto ko? Ano ba yung mas marami ang makikinabang?

He recalls a time that he had to wake up at 4 a.m., would start coaching students at 5 a.m., finish those sessions by 10 a.m., take a quick break and rest, then go on to attend meetings, then start coaching again at 5 p.m., and would often get home at 11 p.m. or even midnight. “Nagkakasakit na ako, kaya inisip ko kung ano ba talaga ang magiging focus ko.” he recalls. That was when he slowly let go of coaching and put his time into race organizing. Since then he has been training running coaches, and eventually when he could no longer handle his clients, they would go to these coaches. “I’m very happy na merong mga runner na kasamahan ko dati, na nagkaroon ng trabaho na connected pa din sa running,” he happily shares. “Sabi nila, kung di daw dahil sa mga races na ino-organize ko, di sila magkakaroon sila ng job. I felt good, at nag-motivate ito sa akin to think kung ano pang magagawa ko para sa community.

7. Coach Rio’s tips for beginner runners:

1) Set your goal. “Ito yung magmo-motivate sa iyo to wake up in the morning and ito yung magpu-push sayo para tumakbo.”
2) Make objectives to achieve your goal. “For example, your goal is 3K. Your objective will be gumising ng ganitong oras para tumakbo. Think na regardless kung naglakad ako o tumakbo, I just want to finish the 3k. So jog ka, walk ka. Next, you want to finish 3k without walking, so nag-improve ka. Next, you want to finish 3k in a specific time. Motivate mo yung sarili mo to achieve your goal.
3) Get the proper equipment. “Meron three types of feet. Flat-footed, high-arched, or neutral. Kung mali yung gamit mong shoes magco-contribute siya to injuries. Yung watch, susunod na lang yun pag may extra ka, kasi dun mo malalaman kung nagi-improve ka.” Coach Rio cites the big number of specialty running stores now, including his very own store Riovana that just opened late last year. 

8. It was his foster father “Lolo Boy” who took him into his care during high school and onwards, and now, it is Rio’s turn to take care of him.

Engineer Juan Ramos, who he more fondly calls “Lolo Boy,” met Rio during his high school days when he would run in Marikina Sports Complex. Lolo Boy saw the potential and passion that Rio had, and after some time, he invited Rio to live with him and his family, and offered to support whatever he needed for school. “Hindi ko ine-expect, may sarili akong room, air-conditioned pa, minsan ipapahatid ako sa school, tapos pag may races abroad siya nagsu-support sa akin.” he fondly recalls. In return, Rio focused on improving in running and getting good grades. “Ngayon naman, baliktad na, mag-70 na siya, so kaming mga tinulungan niya dati ang nag-aalaga sa kanya ngayon.” Rio shares. In fact, Rio proudly announces that he will be running the Paris Marathon this April with co-runners and his Lolo Boy. “Yung natutunan ko sa kanya is how to be humble, down to earth, and hindi ka mag-stop na tulungan yung ibang tao na kahit na nahihirapan ka na.

9. Of all the hardships he experienced in life, the hardest for him was: “Yung hindi mo alam kung kailan yung next meal mo, o kung saan ka matutulog next.

I was 11, 12 years old, yung wala kaming makunan o mahingian, so you have to work on your own.” Rio reveals. This, and having grown up in a community where people had all sorts of money-making gimmicks, is what made Rio the 27-year-old entrepreneurial mind that he is. He thought of all kinds of ways to earn money, from competing in Tex and jolens games, to going from door to door to throw people’s trash (from which he would get a peso or two per home), to selling ice (that he would sell as ice water later in the day), to collecting old wires (that he would burn all together) to sell in junk shops.

Today, he organizes a race almost every week for some of the biggest companies in the country, at times to raise funds for a cause, with thousands of health-conscious participants in attendance.

10. Coach Rio now realizes that his main purpose in life is to inspire people to live a healthier lifestyle.

He cannot answer for sure which achievement he is most proud of, because he says the fulfillment comes on different levels. As an athlete, it’s very fulfilling to stand on a podium and receive an award. As a coach, it is very rewarding to see your student transform physically and live a balanced, healthy life. As an event organizer, he is motivated by people who are inspired by his story and those who keep coming back to the races that he organizes. “Siyempre natatakot ako na bumalik kung saan ako before. Although I’m ready kung mangyari man yun kasi sanay ako sa wala, hindi ko naman papayagang mapunta sa ganun.” coach Rio shares. “Very thankful ako na kahit papano na yung mga dreams ko lang before, nandito na ngayon, at yung makita ko yung ibang tao na nag-iimprove din yung life nila.

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Just like his system in training runners, his life goals and achievements also seem to go from small to big, and even to biggest. In every interview of his that we read, his dreams seem to get bigger and bigger, and though he very often uses the phrase “di ko ine-expect,” we who watch his life can’t help but expect and claim only greater things to happen in Coach Rio’s life. He met people in his life that helped him become the success he is today, and he is now giving back by doing exactly the same thing for many other people.

Rags to riches stories do exist, and coach Rio’s is one we can all learn from, running enthusiast or not. “Palagi natin naririnig na hindi hadlang ang kahirapan sa tagumpay, at napatunayan ko sa sarili ko na hindi talaga ito hadlang.
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Online Gamer, Basketball Player, Mountaineer, Recreational Runner, Blogger, Comedian, Weekend Warrior, part-time TriAthlete (Kain, Tulog, Gala)