All things considered, Matt Russell believes the current Ironman season could very well be his best ever.
It will certainly rank among his most memorable because Gillian Foreman accepted his marriage proposal on May 29 with the couple looking down from a mountain trail over Big Bear Lake in California.
“Gillian has really been supportive and has played a big role in my success. I wouldn’t be who I am without her,” Russell said of his fiancee, a multi-sport athlete herself who grew up in Capetown, South Africa.
“She is the one who suggested that we move from Arizona to California so I could train with my swim coach (Gerry Rodrigues).”
Russell, a Lisbon Central graduate who began his journey in the multi-sport world as a distance runner and steeplechase champion at Canton Central through a merger agreement, has credited his coach for improving his swimming and his confidence in the sport overall.
Russell’s development from an aquatic neophyte who struggled to swim 50 meters, to a world class 2.4-mile swimmer has keyed his ascension to a place among the world’s best ironmen.
“This season I am swimming more (4,000-6,000 kilometers a day). I went from four hours to eight hours a week,” said Russell who started his evolution toward Ironman by winning two National Duathlon Championships after graduating from the University of New Hampshire as the New England Division I steeplechase champion.
Russell entered into the triathlon world in 2010 and immediately felt at home in a realm featuring athletic marvels and old souls who compete altruistically over a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Russell has risen to a career-high world ranking of 15 among the top 50 professionals who have qualified for World Championships on Oct. 11 in Hawaii. Starting the season, 640 professionals set out to earn one of the 50 spots for the worlds.
Russell started the season by overcoming multiple flat tires to take sixth at Ironman Cabo on March 30 and then place third at the legendary WildFlower Half Ironman on May 3.
He turned in a personal best by five minutes with an 8:14 on May 17 to take second in a stacked Ironman Texas field that included seven Ironman Champions. Brevn Dochels of New Zealand led the event in 8:09.37.
Russell won the June Lake Half Ironman on July 12 and on Saturday he bounced back from what he calls a “disappointing” seventh on July 27 at Ironman Canada at Whistler, B.C., to take fifth at the North American Championships at Ironman Mont-Tremblant near Montreal.
The fifth-place finish at Mont Tremblant secured his fourth-straight qualification for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Russell called his performance at Mont Tremblant gratifying because he earned significant points at the North American Championships and rebounded well mentally and physically after he trained at altitude to peak for Ironman Canada.
But in his words, he “messed up the timing from training at altitude and coming back to sea level,” he said.
He heads to Hawaii for the World Championships as the only American to compete and complete the last three worlds, and he approaches it with a simple but complex goal — to better his previous performances.
“In 2011 I took 23rd, in 2012 I took 20th, in 2013 I took 18th,” said the 31-year old Russell. “In 2014 I have been moving in the right direction and would like to move up a few more places.”
On his blog Russell says he is “very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead while he can praise the Lord’s glory with the talents he has been blessed with.”
Among those opportunities are returning to Arizona for winter training, visiting New Zealand to compete in Ironmans, and spending next summer on the St. Lawrence River in his hometown of Lisbon.
All the while adhering to the basic tenant of his life, “The more I do, the more I learn.”