Published July 11, 2001
LOS ANGELES – A year and a half ago, Leilani Rios was just another student at Cal State Fullerton, a member of the cross-country team working her way through school ... as an exotic dancer.
When her track coach found out she was getting paid to take her clothes off, he cut her from the team. She kept her job and struck back by threatening to sue the school.
"He has no right to kick me off the team," Rios said.
Now she thinks that getting forced off the team may the best thing that's ever happened to her. Her story took off — first she was in the school newspaper, then she became a national celebrity.
"It bloomed from there — Channel 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 13 and many other shows from Inside Edition to Extra," Rios' husband, Wayne Furtado, said. "GMA (Good Morning America), Fox News, Fox Sports and basically every radio station in the country."
One local station staged a fundraiser to raise tuition money for Rios, and now her phone never stops ringing.
"I didn't realize it was gonna get this big," she said.
She wasn't exaggerating. Agents have offered contracts and movie deals. Rios was given a freebie-laden trip to Las Vegas and landed a paid photo spread on Playboy.com and in the magazine's October issue.
"We never [sought] any media attention whatsoever," Furtado said. "It all came to us. I never made one phone call to try to get the story out there."
But the publicity did more than spiral Rios to fame. After one of Court TV's featured legal eagles offered to represent her for free in her battle against the school, the school backed down from its position. Now its says she can rejoin the team if she meets NCAA requirements.
Rios says that's all she wanted in the first place.