In 2019, after making a miraculous comeback from a near fatal collision with a car on the Ironman World Championship course in Kona, Hawaii, Matt Russell won the Men’s Professional Championship of Ironman Lake Placid.
An incredible victory and intensely personal experience for Russell in a very special place for the Lisbon native and Lisbon Central School Sports Hall of Famer.
Lake Placid was the site of his first triathlon, a youth triathlon which he completed with high school friends and Canton Central track-field teammates Jon Pierce, Pedro Alarez and Andy Alvarez.
A triathlon he completed by dog-paddling the 400 yard swim.
Ironman Lake Placid 2021 produced another personal signpost in the 38-year old Russell’s Ironman career and life journey on July 28. As the defending champion he placed seventh in a time of 8:42:49 with a 54:10 2.4 mile swim, 4:36.11 112-mile bike ride and 3:45.4126.2 mile run.
Rasmus Svenningsan of Sweden took the men’s pro title in 8:13.34.
When a competitor was disqualified Russell moved up to sixth place and earned his ninth trip to the World Championships in Kona in October.
A qualification which seemed unlikely when Russell dealt with two grand mal seizures, nine days apart, in June nine weeks after suffering a seizure while training to compete in four major events in three months in the post COVID-19 Ironman world.
On one of the seizures he suffered fractured ribs and he had to start taking medication to deal with the seizures.
Leading up to Lake Placid he placed 14th in 4:05.57 in the 70.3 North American Championships in St. Georges Utah where he, his wife Gillan and their son Makio are currently residing, 15th in 8:16 in the North American Ironman Championships at Ironman Tulsa, Ok. and fifth overall at Ironman Coeur d’Alene Idaho in 101 degree heat.
“The last few weeks have probably been some of toughest weeks in my life. However, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger right. Nine weeks after my first seizure, I had my second. Then I had my third seizure nine days after my second. This devastated me as I really didn’t want to start taking medication. However I had to start taking the medication and those first few days were very rough. I was drowsy/tired and having the feeling of being worthless which I knew was just a side effect of the meds,” said Russell in a video report after the Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
“There were a few things that kept me afloat. My family, forcing myself to exercise everyday and knowing that the Lord has more in store for me. Although my training leading up to Ironman Coeur d’Alene might have not been ideal, especially since I have some bruised and/or fractured ribs. I’m very grateful that I will be able to safely race because of the medication. 2021 is about having faith and believing. It was an emotional moment doing a Blazeman roll in memory of my mother who I lost from ALS at the finish line. No matter how rough things are it’s important to have a good support system my family and The Lord, try your best and to carry a positive attitude.”
His faith was tested again at Lake Placid when confronted with a totally unexpected physical challenge when he was afflicted by the onset of food poisoning two miles into the bike.
“It came on and I had to go into the woods to take care of business. That had never happened to me before. I found out after I finished the race that my dad who was watching the race was taken to the hospital with food poisoning. So we both had it and it must have been something we ate the day before,” said Russell.
“I had to use the portajohn again on the run. I was feeling sick, and I had lost so much time that the leaders were so far ahead. But I wasn’t going to quit so I decided to use the run like a training day. Thankfully dad is OK and I was only sick for one day and I got a Kona slot. It would have been easy to dnf yesterday as I was sick but persevering paid off. I am ready to race in the Ironman World Championships in Kona for the 9th time. It’s been a crazy year with health issues but makes me appreciate things to a deeper level because of it. I want to everyone fore the support and love they showed me.”