“Coaching at Rio means the world to me,” says head cross country coach Anton Escay, and after just three years leading the program, anyone on the team can speak to his unmatched Raider pride.
A class of 1995 alumni, Escay ran for Rio himself during his four years of high school and later ran for ARC in college. When he’s not running or coaching, Escay is fixing elevators throughout the greater Sacramento area, but as soon as his work day is over, one can find the infamous Capital Elevator truck in the Rio parking lot for practice.
As head coach of the cross country team, Escay oversees more than 50 students every year and knows them all by name.
“Anton is so dedicated to our team and really cares about each and every one of his athletes,” senior Lucy Prieto said, remembering countless pep talks and miles run alongside her coach.
While sometimes Escay will hop on the bike or Elipti-go and ride next to athletes on the trail, most days at practice Escay runs with the team. He feels running with the students makes him a better coach, because it reminds him how physically and mentally challenging the sport can be.
“I love the trust that they put in me to help them reach their goals,” Escay said. “You know you’re doing something right when you see smiles on their faces and they keep coming back even though you put them through hell on a daily basis.”
Escay feels it’s an honor to be surrounded by such dedicated high school runners, and the appreciation goes both ways. Senior Alex Doyle says if it weren’t for Escay’s motivation, she wouldn’t be the runner she is today.
“Whenever I think I can’t keep going, he encourages me to believe in myself,” Doyle said, recalling how during her first long run Escay ran with the team, running back and forth between runners to talk them through the rough miles, correcting their form and reminding them to breathe.
While Escay has big plans for the future of Rio track and cross country, he also realizes the importance of fun in high school sports.
“My goal is to make running fun first, and then once you hook them in, you can add the hard stuff that makes them faster,” Escay said. “I want to make Rio the new running destination for competitive runners.”
Carrying around a JBL boombox to play music at practice and keeping a positive attitude are key components to fostering not only a competitive but a fun running experience.
Though many members of the team may describe Escay as a kid at heart, he takes his role as a coach seriously, constantly looking for new ways to motivate the athletes. One of his strategies is to come up with quotes or mottos for the team.
“‘Pressure is a privilege’ is my latest,” Escay said. “We have a very competitive division and it’s easy to get nervous or overwhelmed, so I like to let the kids know to embrace it, and that we are here because we deserve to be.”
Ultimately, Escay’s favorite part about coaching is being able to watch student-athletes improve and succeed in running. He hopes that everyone on the team can enjoy the process and push themselves with the help of their teammates.
Escay’s reminder to everyone on and off the track as they face challenges: “Embrace that pressure because you have earned it!”