It was upon taking the train to Manila that the young Rio saw the world beyond the rickety corners of their shanty. With an allowance of one peso a day, de la Cruz began attending public school, enduring the daily three-kilometer walk. However, his ideal mode of transportation was running.
College proved to be a turning point in his career. In 2001, he was named Rookie of the Year in the UAAP track and field event, winning two silver medals in his first year. De la Cruz began breaking and establishing records, winning more medals, and soon joined the National Team in his second year in college.
Popular sporting brand Nike noticed the running kid with an afro and signed him up to become an endorser. “Two months before my graduation, UP hired me as a coach for the track team.”
It was also during this time that de la Cruz began to teach running one-on-one. His clients, company presidents and CEOs, actors and socialites, made him the running coach to the country’s running elite. And Rio became Coach Rio.
“At that time, I was already thinking of organizing races myself,” recalls Rio. Challenged by his then girlfriend who thought he couldn’t do it, de la Cruz took it upon himself to prove her wrong. Armed with nothing but his experience as a racer and a little over P100,000 of his own money, de la Cruz took to organizing his own race.
He was a one- man team—from producing registration materials, designing flyers, looking for sponsors, creating the race route, applying for permits, delivering registration forms, and even creating jerseys. This barefoot runner was not about to be daunted by scant resources.
And in August of 2007, the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City was swarmed by nearly 2,000 runners participating in The Great UP Run. The result was an event worthy of its name. “That was where it all began,” de la Cruz says, “the notion that if Coach Rio organizes a race, it’s a quality event.”
Now, in only two years’ time this veteran of over 20 races in more than four countries has managed to make himself and his full head of hair a brand that holds quality and world-class racing events popular among the country’s running community.
The next level:
And better he became. In 2007, de la Cruz established Entraineur, an events and sports management company that handles corporate accounts.
In 2008, together with business partner Vince Mendoza, he launched Finishline.ph, an online sports management company that organizes races. And just last year, he launched Run Rio Inc. which holds de la Cruz’s own running series called The RunRio Trilogy, a yearly triple combination of three major running events, and RunRio Sportswear, Rio’s own running apparel brand.