Cross country coach Frankie Ruiz leads team — and Miami Marathon — by example

Frankie Ruiz’s childhood passion turned into a career of unimaginable achievements. He not only coached a high school team to multiple state titles, but he co-founded the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, one of the nation’s largest events of its type. He is motivated like a few others to strive for greatness.  

“I realize that I’m driven by seeing others succeed from the ground up, by the possibility we show them,” Ruiz said. “As a coach, it’s fulfilling to see kids grow through their formative years and influence them in a way that probably nobody else will.”

Ruiz, who is 43 years-old, has won 12 state titles as the coach of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School’s varsity cross-country team. He also won one as a student in 1995, running under coach Carlos Barquin. And he helped start the marathon in 2002, where he has served for over 20 years now, bringing in thousands of runners every year from all around the world.

In his youth, Ruiz was an athletic kid who went from sport to sport until he came upon the one that many others think is torture: running. One day his father, Paco, invited him to run with a friend of the family, Frank Plantada. Frankie Ruiz was 10 years old then, and to this day he never forgot that moment, when he found his passion for running. He decided to compete at Belen for coach Barquin and won a state title as a student; it was the first of many.

After graduating from Belen in 1996, he never left the sport, driving runners to North Carolina for meets and helping coach them under coach Barquin, focusing on just helping his community. “I always knew one way or another I was going to get into coaching,” Ruiz said about becoming the varsity cross country coach in 2002, “and when I got there, I set that bar as high as I thought was realistic to set.”

While in his inaugural season as the head coach, he came upon a developing story of a triathlon swimmer by the name of Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who had at the time been running side-by-side with comedian Robin Williams winning the competitions. He invited the triathlete to come to Miami, which got a lot of media attention and soon the attention of Miami-Dade County, as the mayor at the time, Alex Penelas, scheduled a meeting between the three and asked if they could run the Miami Marathon. (Race History – The Miami Marathon and Half)

That meeting was the birthplace of the Miami Marathon, which over time grew in popularity and size, grabbing attention from all states across the country and from different countries around the globe. There had been a local version of the race before, but Ruiz and others found big-name sponsors and thousands of runners every year. 

At Belen, Ruiz has had a never-quit approach to coaching. He never accepted excuses. “It’s easy to get out of things, it’s easy to give up when you’re hurting a bit, or something seems like it’s able to justify you stopping, it’s easy,” Ruiz shared, “I’m pretty harsh about quitting because of that.” 

Carlos Bailly, a 2020 Belen graduate who joined the team in his freshman year, shared his view on Ruiz. “This guy was hard as nails when I joined the team, but over time you just respect the guy, the dedication he has, the research, driving the team.” 

Bailly says the team didn’t win a state championship his freshman year, but did during his sophomore, junior and senior years. He recalled moments when there would be rain or storms during their practices, but Ruiz would make them run anyway. “There could be a storm, like heavy rain, and we would still run, not like short three to five-mile runs, these were 11, 12, 13-mile runs.”

Ruiz poses with his 2021 state championship team in Tallahassee. (Courtesy of Frankie Ruiz)

In 2021, Ruiz led the team to its fifth straight state title. Overall during his tenure the team has come away with 12 state titles. That’s a dynasty. The team has one other state championship – from a year when Ruiz was a competitor.  

All that winning isn’t a complete surprise to Ruiz. Young runners see their elders win and are hungry.

“I think that what happens naturally when you win a lot, you can kind of lose that hunger, so the freshmen and sophomores that come in, they have that hunger to be in that top spot…causing that chain reaction of making the older guys better,” Ruiz said. He added that no senior guy likes to be beaten or replaced by the younger guys, so the competitiveness can stem from that. 

His approach to coaching and life is to be admired. It is something that he got from his dad, Paco. “He takes everything he’s committed to, to like the tenth power, the thousandth power, and I’ve learned to do the same,” Ruiz said, “If I can be like half of what my dad is, I can go pretty darn far.”

Among this past year’s best runners was senior Adam Magoulas, who was injured during the years, but returned in times to win the state title. He will attend the University of Florida and compete there, along with former Belen runners Javier Vento and Aiden Villasuso. 

Paco Ruiz points out that his son had a lot of influence on Magoulas. “I think Frankie had a lot to do with where Adam is at – he is an elite athlete and Frankie pushed him to the limits.” 

Indeed, Paco shares that his son doesn’t just give 100% in coaching, but in all aspects of his life. “He wants to do everything to perfection, and that is Frankie.”

Andres Frenero is a senior at the Honors College in FIU majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He likes to stay up to date with the latest sports news and enjoys watching the NBA, NFL, and AEW whenever possible. He hopes to get into sports journalism after graduation, particularly as part of a sports team in the NFL or NBA.