Russell's Comeback Story Timely For Crazy Times
BY DAVE SHEA
LISBON - Strange days indeed.
Days of high anxiety where the COVID-19 virus has accented the normal fear of the unknown to extreme and beyond.
Lisbon native Matt Russell, who completed 49 Ironmans in his career as a professional triathlete and triathlon coach, recently experienced that extreme anxiety and fear at a very personal level.
He travelled to South Africa, the home of his wife Gillian, earlier this month to experience one of his life's goals - to compete in Ironman South Africa. But when the virus exploded from an epidemic to global pandemic, the event was cancelled and the Ironman season was suspended. Ironman recently announced that the qualifying procedure would be revised based on the resumption of the worldwide series.
Russell accepted the disappointment and focused on getting his family back home safely.
"These are crazy times. You just have focus on what you can control and stay strong." said the 36-year old Russell who now lives in a Sarasota, Fla. with his wife and light of their life young son Makaio in a virtual presentation made from his native Lisbon which was shown live and can still be viewed on the Lisbon Central School facebook page.
It was a follow up to a presentation in 2017 when Russell was inducted into the Lisbon Central School Athletic Hall of Fame.
"I don't know when my next race will be maybe July or August or I might not race agains this season. I am just training and taking it one day at a time. I train 30-40 hours a week. I work on the rowing machine and I use massages which really help," he added.
INSPIRATIONAL RETURN TO NORMALCY
Russell's presentation reflected back to an even crazier time of his life in the aftermath of an unimaginable accident while competing on the bike course of the 2017 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. A car wandered out onto the course in front of Russell racing his bicycle at top speed.
He suffered severe neck injuries and a diabolical jagged cut across his throat. Injuries which he survived through his strength and fitness as a world class athlete.
"It really could have lost my life that day but the Lord had other plans for me," he said in his presentation.
"But I didn't know if I could ever get back to the level that I had competed at."
But through faith, family support and the support of the World Triathlon Community Russell staged an inspirational comeback. He returned to Kona the following October and placed sixth and then noted a full circle with first place finish Ironman at Lake Placid 2019 10 months later.
His comeback provides a guide for people across the world who are desperately in need of finding their way back to normalcy.
The first strides in Russell's comeback started at community run at his home in Sarasota, Fla. where he pushed his son in a stroller. As his body and resolve headed he made his way back to Kona and the World Championships in the space of a year following the triathlon trail from Texas to Tennessee to Canada.
"The Lord gave me the gift of life and anything his possible if you believe. Anyone can do anything," said Russell.
"But I had to overcome the fear going back on course to the spot of my injury. After the crash I do all my bike training inside but when I got to Kona I rode the bike course before the championship. It was very emotional but I felt that I had to finish what I started."
Finish indeed. He shocked world, and admittedly himself, by placing sixth.
"I got off the bike 20th and started running up the field and moved into the top 10. In the last five miles of the marathon I was running on adrenalin and when I crossed the finish line I felt alive and said Hello Lord," said Russell.
"I have worked very hard in therapy to overcome neck muscle problems and I have cleaned up my diet. I am mostly vegan now and meditation has really helped me."
SPECIAL WIN AT LAKE PLACID
The following July he made a triumphant return to Lake Placid to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first triathlon.
"Lake Placid is very special to me. I did a lot of camping there growing up. I won my first duathlon there and I competed in my first Ironman there," said Russell whose progression to Ironman started as a Lisbon Central student-athlete running distance and steeplechase for Canton Central through a merger agreement followed collegiate championships at the University of New Hampshire in steeplechase and cycling.
"My goal was to get to the podium but there seven Ironman Champions in the field," said Russell looking back on joining the elite circle of champions.
"I had an amazing bike ride and broke an 18-year old course record," said Russell.
"I was rock steady in the run and after a crossed the finish line I did the roll that always do to honor my mother who died from ALS. It was so special and I kept thinking anyone can do anything and that message keeps me going day in and day out."
He plans to keep going as long as Ironman continues to be fun, he can stay healthy and he can continue to make a living at it.
"I really want to do Ironman South Africa, that is one of my bucket list races. I have done Ironman New Zealand, two in Germany and races all over the United States. I really love racing all over the world." said Russell.
He plans to keep going for a several years.
"I am 37 and that is not old in the sport of triathlon. Many triathletes continue to be successful well into their 40s. I will continue to do a lot of coaching and consulting. Anyone who needs some help at distance racing or Ironman can email me at mattrusselltri@yahoo."
He closed with a well used message which still bears repeating over and over.
"Stay strong. Stay safe. We are all together."
MATT RUSSELL'S COMEBACK
Ironman Texas 70.3 7th
Ironman Texas 14th
Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 7th
Ironman Mont Tremblant 70.3 5th
Ironman Canada 3rd
Ironman Mont Tremblant 3rd
Ironman Chattanooga 2nd
Ironman World Championships 6th
Challenge Daytona Half 5th
Ironman Texas 70.33
Ironman North America Championships 12The Woodlands, Texas
Ironman Gulf Coast 70.3 4
Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 5
Ironman European Championships 6Frankfurt, Germany
Challenge Roth 9One week after Ironman Frankfurt
Ironman Lake Placid 1
Ironman Chattanooga 2
Ironman World Championships 17