“Running can serve as the base for everything else you do, whether it’s Cycling, CrossFit, Weightlifting or Zumba. It can enhance every activity you do,”
Frankie Ruiz is best known in Miami as the co-creator of the Miami Marathon, the race that attracted 25,000 people last January. If this were all Ruiz were known for, it would be a tremendous accomplishment, but here are a few of the things he’s up to:
• He oversees the Run Club Network, which is comprised of five running clubs throughout Miami in which more than 9,000 runners participate.
• He’s served as the coach of the Belen Jesuit Preparatory cross-country running team for the past decade, during which the team has won six state championships, and for which Ruiz has been named Coach of the Year by the Miami Herald five times.
• He is co-owner of SoleRUNNERS, the specialty running store.
All this is in addition to Ruiz’s job, which is serving as the chief running officer for US Road Sports and Entertainment Group (USRS). In this role, he provides supporting expertise for course and site logistics, as well as the marketing department for the 25 event properties that the company owns.
But his best known role, of course, is as the co-founder of the Miami Marathon, which is the city’s signature distance running event, and for which the Miami Herald hailed him the “pied piper of competitive running” in the city.
Surprisingly, the event came about by accident. Back in 2002, Ruiz was a new Florida International University graduate with a degree in communications. (He’s since also earned a master’s in public administration.) Leafing through a triathlon magazine, he came across a photo of Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who has since become a Gold Medal-winning Paralympics swimmer. Recalls Ruiz, “I came across an article about this 12-year-old double amputee who was running side-by-side with Robin Williams and competing in triathlons and I thought, ‘How cool it would be to get him to come and talk to the kids I coach. So I decided to give it a shot.’”
Ruiz contacted Tolson’s mother, who liked the idea, and encouraged him to send out a press release about Rudy’s visit to Miami from California. Instantly, the media began calling and a TV station covered the boy as he competed together with Ruiz at a local triathlon. After that airing, Javier Soto, the chief of staff to then Miami-Dade County mayor Alex Penelas, called Ruiz to invite Rudy to meet the mayor. “At that meeting, Rudy was asked, ‘Why don’t you run the Miami Marathon?’ There was silence from everyone else in the room because they knew we didn’t have a marathon,” recalls Ruiz. But, he adds, “The very next day, the mayor made sure I got a call from his chief of staff, who asked me what I would need to start a marathon in Miami. Mayor Alex Penelas and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz helped us through the planning process and we made it happen,” said Ruiz.
That first year, the marathon attracted 3,400 people, says Ruiz, but the race quickly mushroomed. Most recently, it was known as the “ING Miami Marathon” but the Dutch financial company was forced to divest itself of holdings around the world as part of a restructuring. So now the race is again known as the “Miami Marathon” but expect that to be short-lived because a new title sponsor will be named shortly, Ruiz said.
Ruiz clearly excels as a competitor. He is a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) Certified Running Coach and he has competed in five marathons and eight half-marathons. But competition isn’t all there is to running, he says. “I try to show people that there is more than that to running. If people see it only as a competitive sport, many of them will stay away from it, so I also try to differentiate the two, and I tell people that running is a very democratic activity that is open to anyone who wants to give it a shot,” says Ruiz.
This is especially appealing in a community like Miami where people connect through outdoor sports, he notes. “I didn’t realize it until I got older but it really is a social sport, and everyone is yearning for a connection. And in addition, you can make a connection while you are doing something healthy,” he notes. Ruiz adds, “There’s no huge cost to enter, you don’t need to belong to a special club, so a secretary or maintenance worker can be running side-by-side with the CEO of the company.”
Too often, though, people view running as a punishment, not a pleasurable activity, so they are reluctant to do it. Or they find it intimidating, he noted. “Anybody can make themselves into a runner. There are all kinds of programs for beginners,” he says, noting that newcomers are always welcomed at his free running clubs, which are located in Miami, Brickell, Weston, Miami Beach and Kendall.
In addition, people don’t have to only run nor do it seven days a week. “Running can serve as the base for everything else you do, whether it’s cycling, CrossFit, weightlifting or Zumba. It can enhance every activity you do,” Ruiz said.
Of course, marathon running has been in the spotlight recently, following the horrifying bombing of the Boston Marathon. “Obviously, we all hit the pause button that day but now I realize that this event was an opportunity for us to join in solidarity with the City of Boston,” he said. “People talked about it around the water cooler the next day and they realized that running was something that everyone did, not just the Kenyan competitor at the front of the race.”
It’s also very important for Ruiz to spread the word about running to the younger generation. He co-created the successful ING “Run for Something Better” kids program that serves the 85,000 middle school students of Miami-Dade County. The non-profit program battles the problem of childhood obesity by sponsoring free, school-based running fitness programs. For his work with kids, Ruiz has been honored multiple times, including being honored as an “Outstanding Star” by the Afterschool All-Stars South Florida organization for his involvement promoting sports to the youth of South Florida.
For Ruiz, encouraging young people to get into running is his way of giving back. He credits his dad, Francisco “Paco” Ruiz, for inspiring him as a child. “I got hooked at the age of 10, when I would run with my father,” says Ruiz. “My father loves Miami and one of the ways he shows it is by going out to events and races,” he said. “I learned from my father to celebrate what we have here,” says Ruiz, noting that in Miami “we may not have hills here but if we want, we can run outdoors 365 days a year.”
By Charlotte Libov