Coach Rio

I was a high school junior when I first saw Rio dela Cruz compete. I cannot remember the medals that he won or the actual event that he ran in, but I still clearly hear how passionately his teammates from UP cheered him on. And they had tons to cheer for, since Rio was at the top echelons of the UAAP seniors division.

The shouts of “Go Rio!” were infectious.  Soon enough, my teammates and I were cheering along with our competitors from UP.

Fast forward almost a decade later, Rio is now at the pinnacle of the running boom. With his posters and billboards (with the likes of Piolo Pascual and Donna Cruz!) strewn all around the Metro, he is now a celebrity (read his life story).

While training in Moro back in 2007, I chanced upon the nascent Coach Rio diligently teaching the rudiments of running to a youngster. Three years later, he’s training hundreds of runners at a time in Ultra and organizing long runs almost every week for thousands of people! What a guy.

Coach Rio’s popularity is good for Philippine Track & Field – if the public interest in recreational running trickles down to athletics itself.  Being too young to remember the heyday of Lydia de Vega, I often wonder if Rio is an even bigger celebrity than Asia’s former Sprint Queen.

I bumped into Rio during last week’s National Open. We talked a bit about his busy schedule and some of his upcoming projects. I wish him the best of luck.  I’m happy that us track & field guys finally has a legitimate poster boy – a model at that!



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