Shoeless runners inspire donors
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Ethiopian Abebe Bikila and South African Zola Budd are in the Olympic history books as two of the greatest barefoot runners ever. In the Philippines, there are kids who compete on dirt tracks without shoes. Some do it because they prefer not to wear shoes. Others do it because their parents can’t afford to buy shoes. Whatever the reason, their feet are exposed to the elements and the threat of serious injury.

When the photo of an 11-year-old Iloilo girl, who went shoeless in garnering a slew of medals in a district meet, came out on Facebook recently, it inspired comments from all over the world. Shoe donations poured in. Rhea Bullos’ coach Leone Tiosayco said the barefoot runner is now getting used to sprinting with shoes. She previously ran with her feet and toes heavily taped.

Bo Navarro, a Filipino who owns and operates a sports marketing company called ProLine Image in San Diego, was in town for the recent Southeast Asian Games when he chanced upon the photo on Facebook. Navarro came with his wife and daughter to watch ProLine athlete Treat Huey play.

Navarro was born in Manila and moved to the US when he was five. He attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on a tennis scholarship then worked for the San Diego Chargers in 2000. Navarro went on to work with the San Diego Sockers and ran a non-profit foundation for former NFL player Quentin Jammer. He’s been in the sports business for 15 years, representing athletes in football, baseball and boxing. Navarro managed and still assists former NFL player Eugene Amano, the first full-blooded Filipino to play pro football.  

Navarro’s involvement in sports has included a stop as general manager of former baseball all-star Adrian Gonzalez’ facility in Chula Vista, California and a producer of boxing events with Bobby DePhilippis, Marron Boxing Promotions and Baron Entertainment. He has staged monthly boxing cards at the Four Points Sheraton and worked closely with Showtime, Golden Boy and Top Rank.

Huey is a special athlete under his management wing. “Treat and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend and also connected via social media,” said Navarro. “I was fortunate to witness his greatest run so far, a semifinal berth at the Wimbledon with Max Mirnyi in 2016. We were also able to get a resolution passed recognizing his accomplishment through Sen. Sonny Angara.  Treat has been suffering from a back injury and this is the first time in almost 1 1/2 years that he’s feeling 100 percent. God willing, he’ll be able to play a full season and also find a solid partner who can complement his game.”

Navarro said Bullos’ photo was “heartbreaking” and “hit me hard.” He forwarded the picture to his client Nick Novak, a former football player with the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. Novak then contacted a sponsorship and endorsement agent for NFL athletes Cliff King who shared the picture with Nike Director of Business Running Sports Richard Sharma. Before long, Nike Philippines contacted Tiosayco to coordinate the delivery of four pairs of shoes, a bag pack and apparel.

 “For an athlete like Rhea to overcome all her obstacles and still be able to compete at a high level is inspiring,” said Novak. “We can all take a lesson from her that it’s not always about the fancy equipment or gear, what matters is her push and drive to succeed. I’ll be keeping a close eye on her.”

Navarro said he’ll do what he can to assist Bullos. “It’s great having a relationship with Nike that they were able to step up and provide for her,” he said. “It’s amazing what we Filipinos can do for each other once we learn how to help each other out. It’s been my motto when dealing with Philippine sports, it’s not a question of ability or skill, it’s about lack of opportunity. I pray that with the recent success at the SEA Games, our nation grows together.”

Tiosayco said Bullos plans to compete in Batang Pinoy and Palarong Pambansa and dreams of someday representing the country at the SEA Games, Asian Games and Olympics. “May kwento si Rhea sa akin noong naglalaro siya,” she said. “Malakas ang kalaban niya at nagkasabayan sila pero sabi ni Rhea, naalala niya sinabi ko na huwag susuko hanggat kaya, ibigay ang best. Kaya habang tumatakbo siya, ang mindset niya ay hindi magpapatalo kasi sayang yung hirap sa training.”

Navarro said he intends to be involved in Philippine sports in the near future. He has assisted the San Beda men’s basketball team in setting up a training camp in Los Angeles through Jude Roque, discussed baseball projects with Mike Ochosa of Philippine Habagat and explored volleyball options with Popoy and Vince Juico. “We’ll be making a move into player representation in the PBA and volleyball,” he said. “We are coordinating to bring the Gonzalez brothers to Manila for a baseball clinic and possibly arrange a game between Mexico and the Philippines. We’re looking into establishing a program to assist shoeless kids. I’ve always been a believer of the Filipino athlete. Hopefully, one day, I can contribute something positive to the sports community.”  

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