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The remarkable comeback of Matt Russell

After a podium at IRONMAN Whistler, Matt Russell continues his comeback season with IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant this weekend

Matt Russell on the bike course at the 2017 IRONMAN World Championship.

On October 14th, 2017, Matt Russell was competing at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona. After pasting the 120K mark on the bike, Russell collided with a van going over 45km/h. Eyewitnesses were in shock, many saying they have never seen anything like it. This witness from a report by Triathlete Magazine said, “It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The images are emblazoned in my brain.”

Once the medics arrived, Russell was immediately transported to a hospital where his injuries were assessed and treated. The crash left Russell with a severed sternocleidomastoid (a muscle in the neck) and jugular vein on his right side, as well as a concussion. Following the incident, Russell took to social media to thank the doctors and God for a second chance at life and hopefully triathlon in the years to come.

At the time of the crash, Russell and his wife had a three-month-old son. “He is what gave me perspective. When I was concerned about coming back or in pain, I focused on him,” says Russell. “My family means everything; they’ve been there for me from day one. My wife is amazing. I can’t really express how thankful I am,” says Russell.

Now less than a year following the injury, Russell is back. His first race back was IRONMAN 70.3 Texas, and then IRONMAN Texas earlier this season. Although he’s back training and racing, the recovery process has been one of many ups and downs says Russell. “It has been long. There was lots of atrophy to my right side (where I took a lot of the impact). I still have some issues there, but also pain on my left side due to my body trying to compensate.” At IRONMAN Texas, the goal wasn’t to win or even podium, but to do it and prove to himself I could come back. “There in Texas was the first time I had to walk, the pain was so much, but getting through that told me I can do it,” says Russell.

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Since his first race of the year in Texas, his results have steadily improved. At IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga he cracked the top 10 with a seventh-place finishing and came fifth at IRONMAN 70.3 Mont-Tremblant. Then at IRONMAN Canada, Russell finished in third and reached the podium for the first time since his injury. At the finish, Russell and his wife embraced after a gruelling day in the heat and months of teamwork. “It was so emotional. During the recovery, you never know if you’ll come back to a hundred per cent. But that result, despite still not being quite at a hundred per cent, gave me an indication that we are moving in the right direction. And to have my wife and son there, it really meant so much to me,” says Russell.

At the finish of 2018 IRONMAN Canada. Photo Credit to Tom Pennington

Now less than a week from IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant, Russell and his family are enjoying some family time in his childhood town. “We are about a three-hour drive from Mont-Tremblant, so now we are just chilling, and we’ll head up Thursday,” says Russell. This weekend will be a family occasion for the Russell family, with his wife, son and dad joining him at the race. When asked about the race, Russell hopes only to do his best and execute a similar plan as to Whistler. “I hope to do my best, and carry that momentum over from Whistler. The pain I experienced in Whistler (due to the injuries) has gotten better, so I’m optimistic that I can challenge for a podium spot,” says Russell.

You can watch Russell and the rest of the professional field this Sunday right here.

Photos from Matt Russell’s Instagram account during his recovery.

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Feeling very grateful today. God truly gave me another chance in life. I have my family, I can walk, the sharpness of my mind is starting to come back. I am physically and very emotionally hurt and shaken up but thankful for so many things. You can not see in the photo but I have stitches on the side of my neck over 7 inches long which was life threatening. Thank you for all of the people that were at the scene that quickly responded to me as I would not be here if it wasn’t for you. Always nice to have my friend and now Ironman World Champ @PatrickLange come visit me. Congrats to all on the day and remember each day truly is a gift from God. Thank you all for the support and even donating. I’m sure everyone has lots of questions but right now I’m going to spend my time with my family and recovering. I’ll try keep everyone updated on this as much as I can. Each day is truly a gift from God.

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