The Heart of a Champion: Coach Rio’s Champion Story

Beyond the big hair, the high-profile running events and the slew of product endorsements, Coach Rio dela Cruz has also been recognized for his persistence to prevail in the midst of insurmountable odds – whether in his chosen sport of running or in the challenges everyday life.

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Great Things Start from Small Beginnings
Unbeknownst to many, Coach Rio’s childhood was mired by hardship. His family struggled with poverty for many years while he was growing up, making it difficult for him to get an education and pursue his training in running. He has gone through it all: from selling “ice-tubig” as an 8-year old, walking several kilometers to and from school, to winning championships and organizing the biggest marathons in the country today. His life so far has truly been a journey.

Coach Rio recalls how he was once one of those barefoot runners, as a fifth grader competing in a track meet without shoes, and winning the 50-m sprint, 100-m sprint, long jump, and high jump events nevertheless. When he reached sixth grade, Coach Rio was able to join his first competitive distance race at the National MILO Marathon, in which he ran barefoot in the 5K category and won first place —an event that was very memorable to him and continues to be very close to his heart. “When I see these kids who run barefoot, I am reminded of how I used to be one of them. I never gave up on my dreams and I trained as hard as I could,” Rio shares. “I want kids to realize that despite their difficulties in life, they can still achieve their dreams and be the best if they work hard and persevere.”

National MILO Marathon – the standard bearer in footraces
The upcoming 38th National MILO Marathon in 2014 will be Coach Rio’s fourth year to organize the prestigious competition, and true to his commitment, he has ensured to improve on each one with each event proving to be bigger and better than the last. In 2011, Coach Rio was instrumental in making the National MILO Marathon an internationally-recognized racing event with the certification of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Compliant with the global technical standards of the AIMS and IAAF such as course timing and measurement, safety and race organization, the National MILO Marathon Manila race is now on the world map of marathon destinations. In 2012, the number of participants in the MILO Marathon reached the 214,000 headcount; and in 2013, Cebuana Mary Joy Tabal set a new record for the women’s 42K event, making her the fastest female marathoner in the country. Tabal will be joining top male runner Eduardo Buenavista in the upcoming 2014 Paris Marathon as part of their prize for winning the 2013 National MILO Marathon.

“The National MILO Marathon is now listed in AIMS’ calendar of events, drawing more top runners worldwide, and giving Filipino elite runners a chance to be recognized internationally as well,” volunteers Coach Rio. “For the first time ever, MILO will send the 2013 MILO Marathon King and Queen to compete in the 2014 Paris Marathon, a renowned race event that I have joined in the past. It is a great opportunity for our top two runners to experience this level of competition in an international playing field and compete against the world’s best.”

For MILO’s 50th year anniversary in 2014, Coach Rio says there will be more surprises in store for those participating in this year’s National MILO Marathon.

Speaking from experience
After winning races in the UAAP and countless marathons, Coach Rio also competed in several international running events such as the Paris Marathon and Boston Marathon. Apart from his extensive experience in the sport, it is also by his hard-earned diploma in Physical Education at the UP College of Human Kinetics that Coach Rio earned his salt as a bona fide running coach. Most of his clientele include top-ranking business executives, celebrities and elite runners, but it is his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for running prompted Coach Rio to take it a step further and become a race organizer. Today, he has positioned himself as one of the country’s most trusted names in organizing marathon events.

Despite the challenges of balancing running training, academics and working odd jobs to earn money for food and basic necessities, Coach Rio believes that his college degree is his biggest achievement. He urges students to value their education, and to continue their schooling despite obstacles they may face. “I felt that running could be a stepping stone for me, so I pursued it. Finishing college was my dream so I trained hard and was able to get a scholarship. Education, especially a college degree, is important because if you do not succeed as an athlete, if you get injured, or when you retire from sports, you have something to fall back on,” says Coach Rio. “There will be many times when you have to sacrifice other things in order to focus on your studies. As much as you want to excel in your sport, you must not forget that finishing your education is still one of the biggest triumphs in life.”

Coach Rio also highlights the importance of the values he learned from running and applying them to his life. “Aside from hard work and determination, running taught me how to be responsible, overcome obstacles and stay committed to my goals. These values are learned not only in running, but in all other sports,” Rio explains. “But the most important thing I’ve learned is how to cultivate my passion in order to achieve my dreams. I believe that if I put my heart and mind into something, I will surely achieve it.” He makes sure to impart these lessons to people as he continues to inspire Filipinos to persevere in running for their dreams, especially the underprivileged youth. “We always hear about how poverty is not a hindrance to success, and I can say that my achievements are testament to that,” he proudly shares. “If I can do it, anybody can. No matter how hard life pushes you back, pick yourself up and keep on pursuing your dreams.”


Paying it forward
Beyond the scale and milestones of the National MILO Marathon, it is the Help Give Shoes advocacy, which started in 2010, that deeply resonated with him.

In order to encourage Filipino children to continue reaching for their dreams, MILO pioneered the Help Give Shoes advocacy, which enables every participant of the National MILO Marathon to donate a part of their registration fee to support the cause. MILO then matches the total amount collected to provide shoes to deserving public school students identified by the Department of Education. Since 2010, MILO has already donated 34,200 pairs of brand new running shoes nationwide, and aims to give 16,000 pairs more to reach the total count of 50,000 in celebration of its golden anniversary this year.

It is MILO’s unwavering passion to drive young champions that inspires Coach Rio make every race in the National MILO Marathon a memorable and enjoyable experience for runners and spectators alike. Coach Rio believes that the National MILO Marathon’s advocacy unites people from all walks of life and provides a breeding ground for athletes where they can hone skills, gain deeper knowledge of the sport, and acquire values for a brighter future.

The race goes on
Coach Rio will continue to organize the National MILO Marathon. This sporting event, with its rich history, expanding scope and growing attraction from hundreds of thousands of participants, is testament to MILO’s longstanding commitment to develop the Philippine athletic community and inspiring athletic excellence among Filipino runners especially the youth.
“Now that I will soon be a father, I will surely impart the values I learned from running to my child. Maybe, someday, we can run the National MILO Marathon together and if we do, I am fortunate enough to say that my kid will never have to run shoeless like i did. But if there’s one legacy I would like to give him, it would be to inspire him to reach for his dreams and become a champion in life, no matter how difficult it may seem.”

The Filipino Flag Flies High in the 2014 Paris Marathon

After clinching the top ranks in the 37th season of the National MILO Marathon, veteran athlete Eduardo Buenavista and fastest Filipina marathoner Mary Joy Tabal once again lived up to their lofty billings in the prestigious Paris Marathon. The reigning MILO Marathon King and Queen recently completed the full distance category with 50,000 runners including seasoned marathoners from across the globe.

The National MILO Marathon awarded both athletes with an all-expenses paid trip to the international competition as the first Philippine delegates sponsored by MILO in over two decades.

Buenavista, who ran alongside fellow Olympian and this year’s Paris Marathon winner Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, clocked in at a swift 2:33:20 and ranked 42nd in the men’s division. In the distaff side, Tabal crossed the finish line at 2:57:28 and emerged as the 17th placer in the women’s division.

Making a Mark in the International Marathon Scene

Following its certification from the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the National MILO Marathon now holds an esteemed position in the world map of marathon destinations.
“Our presence in the roster of quality international races has enabled us to accept global talents and send our very own exceptional athletes to the world stage. We are very proud to have provided Eduardo and Mary Joy the platform to show their athletic excellence in Paris amongst other elite runners,” ~Andrew Neri - MILO Sports Marketing Manager~
With eyes set on bringing gold and glory to their home soil, Buenavista and Tabal worked to achieve top form months before taking on the challenging course in the French capital. While the athletes trained separately, both admitted to building unique training schemes and strategies to match the speed and endurance of their foreign competitors.

The 35-year old South Cotabato native Eduardo Buenavista said:
“Competing in Europe has always been one of my career goals and it was truly an honor to finally fulfill that lifelong dream. I wanted to make the best out of the experience and started training in Baguio City with the National Team early this year. I covered almost 30 kilometers daily to develop my stamina, strength, and body condition.”
While Tabal didn’t bring home the prize, making it to the top 20 of the female division was no mean feat, proving that Filipino runners can compete in equal footing with the world’s elite runners.

Like Buenavista, Tabal’s intensive workout sessions involved physical conditioning and speed work within 20 to 25 kilometers of training distance in Cebu City. But beyond withstanding the length of the course, Tabal shared that she was focused on increasing her resistance to the cold weather, which were then expected to drop below 15 degrees Celsius.
“I knew that acclimatizing to the cold environment in Paris would be the biggest challenge so I prepared long and hard to boost my performance. We had three days to get used to the weather so there was definitely a huge amount of pressure to adjust quickly” ~Mary Joy Tabal ~
National MILO Marathon race director and running coach Rio dela Cruz, who accompanied both athletes to the running event, recounts that apart from the level of temperature, several factors such as the sudden change in the time zone and diet were critical to the performance of both athletes.
“Competing in a different country will always be tough but Eduardo and Mary Joy were impressively resilient in conditions they were not accustomed to.” ~Coach Rio~

paris Marathon
Inspiring the Next Generation of Runners

The journey to the finish line began smoothly for both runners who remarked that the route was not very different from the courses in local races. But the Paris streets soon took its toll and the last stretch brought on the challenge that the marathon has always been known for.   Even two-time Olympian Buenavista was not spared by the long terrain and the climate.
“I started feeling the fatigue during the last 10 kilometers, which slowed me down. But I pulled through and was able to finish the race” ~Mary Joy Tabal ~
Both runners shared that the support of MILO and the Filipino community fueled their will to give pride to the country and inspire the youth to become champions.

As it celebrates its 50th year anniversary, MILO endeavors to drive Filipinos to follow the path towards success in sports and in life like Buenavista and Tabal. According to Coach Rio, MILO has forged ties with international race organizers to ensure that future champions of the National MILO Marathon will be able to showcase their passion beyond the local athletic scene. Athletes will also be given longer preparation time to adapt better in international races.

The National MILO Marathon will usher in its 38th season in June of this year with a goal to engage 230,000 runners and cap the 50,000 mark for its Help Give Shoes advocacy by donating brand new running shoes to school children in Tacloban.

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