A Profile on Professional Triathlete, Matt Russell, and His Unwavering Resilience
Triathletes, or really endurance athletes in general, are a particular breed. We tend to be hyper-focused on the details and enjoy living a regimented and controlled lifestyle. Often though, life shows us that it has different plans.
When Professional Triathlete Matt Russell was 8 years old, his mother was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Throughout the five years that she battled the disease, Matt learned many valuable lessons from her, including how important determination and carrying a positive attitude can be. Those lessons in determination and positivity were pulled to the ultimate test in 2017.
After racing more than 45 Ironmans and notably winning Ironman Canada in 2012 Matt gained his 6th qualification for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI. He was in 8th place on the bike when a miscommunication left a van directly in his path. Matt yelled for the van to move, but to no avail. In a matter of moments, his race, and almost his life, came crashing to a halt.
The aftermath of the collision left Matt with a severe gash on his neck six inches long and two inches wide, and his jaw muscle and jugular vein severed. Miraculously, a spectator on the scene was an anesthesiologist, and despite the massive blood loss, Matt made it to the hospital alive.
With a few shards of glass still stuck deep inside his neck, Matt left the hospital after receiving emergency surgery and returned home to his wife and newborn son and to face the long road to recovery.
They say the strength in people is determined not by how they appear at their lowest, but how they rise from the ground after being knocked down. It’s safe to say that Matt has picked himself up with a grace that is to be desired by all.
A Story of Perseverance
One year after the accident that changed his life, Matt Russell made the triumphant return to Kona and finished in 6th place at the 2018 Ironman World Championships.
Matt’s emotional return to Hawaii was one that no one would have expected. Coming back to the site of his life-threatening accident as largely the same man, but changed in many ways.
Matt’s phenomenal recovery can partially be attributed to his remarkable physical shape — There is no question that his cardiovascular health, strength, and endurance played a large role in his speedy recovery. However, the bulk of his growth came in his mental resilience. A strength that most endurance athletes strive for.
After an accident of that magnitude, most wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Russell never wanted to race or ride a bike again. But for Matt, his life threatening accident reignited a fire burning within him — A fire called gratitude.
Life changing events have a way of impacting how we go about and see the world, for Matt it was a call for him to take each day and find the positives, an opportunity to inspire many who may also be going through a hard time, to make his family proud, and to continue to take in all that life has given him.
So, this leads us to the question of how does Matt live these lessons in mental determination and appreciation? Let’s just say that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
If you’ve ever had the chance to speak with Matt you know he carries himself with a calmness that relaxes and comforts everyone around him. He encourages himself and fellow athletes by sharing the mindset that each day is a gift, and that gratitude is the key to living your best life.
Matt has spent the past 3 years sharing the story of his near death experience not to gain sympathy or attention, but rather to raise awareness to other high intensity, rushed, and on-the-go athletes that there are benefits to slowing down, that each day is a gift, and positivity, gratitude, and peace are the path to a greater success.
Motivation from Matt
Matt sees each day as a new adventure, as a gift, and as a new day to get better — Both mentally and physically.
By recognizing that each day is something not to be wasted, it motivates him to start the day out on the right foot, and to enjoy the little moments throughout it. Matt’s family has been a great influence for him in this area. The appreciation and love for the time he gets to spend with his family is clear.
In the everyday grind, it can be difficult to appreciate the tasks at hand. So here are a few tips to consider when trying to let more appreciation into your life:
- Do something you love every day
- Set an intention for your day
- Set aside time to recharge
- Don’t take things for granted
- Start a gratitude journal
Staying positive can be tough. With so much happening around us on a daily basis that we cannot control, how can we possibly maintain positivity through both the light and dark times?
The answer is simple: determination and repetition.
Matt encourages people to see the brighter side of the picture, to take control of their actions and attitude, and make the most of any situation they are given.
You don’t need a life altering event to practice this, there are a lot of ways to practice positivity in your everyday life — For example: Instead of getting upset that the weather ruined the outdoor swim you had planned, pull out the stretch cords and blare some music in your pain cave. Appreciate and find the joy in the fact that you can listen to music while you dry-land swim!
3. Rest Days & Recovery
It’s no secret that sleep and recovery are keys to physical growth, but they also play a large role in your mental health.
Studies have shown that taking just two to three minutes to mentally recharge throughout the day can have a major impact on your overall mental health and well-being. These two minutes of recharging could include meditation, sitting in your office chair and focusing on your breathing, taking time to daydream, or simply closing your eyes for a few minutes and sitting still.
By relaxing and resting your mind, you’ll be more refreshed during the day, more available to help others at home or work, and have more energy to enjoy your daily tasks and training.
4. Acceptance & Knowledge
Accepting and being one’s self — Accepting your strengths and weaknesses so that you can better achieve your goals. By embracing exactly who he is, Matt has not just overcome the physical obstacles put in front of him, he learns about himself in the process, and it is this knowledge that gives him a leg up on his competition. Getting in touch with your mind and soul, and connecting with them can lead to amazing results from your body.
Since his crash, Matt has returned and finished on the Podium at Ironman Canada, Mount Tremblant, Chattanooga, and he won Ironman Lake Placid in 2019. What may be more impressive is that his accident happened on October 14th, 2017, and the following year, he completed not one, not two — but ten Ironmans.
This level of perseverance and raw physical and mental toughness are something to behold. And this level of grit is INFINIT.
As endurance athletes, we don’t succeed in our sport without digging down deep into our mental resilience and learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Matt’s unwavering resilience serves as a true inspiration, and encourages us to take a look inside ourselves and appreciate each day that your body gives you.