The thing about being in TV sports is that it pays to be aware that there may be other much more accomplished people who share the same name.
I guess it helps keep you humble.
Case in point, Scott Russell is a name of renown in sporting circles and certainly not because of yours truly.
The American Scott Russell, also known as "Mr. Daytona," is one of the greatest motorcycle racers in history. A World Superbike champion, this Russell won the Daytona 200 an unprecedented five times and is enshrined in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
But that's not the Scott Russell I want to elaborate on here.
Allow me to digress.
In the summer of 2007, I was flying out of Windsor, Ont., following the Canadian track and field championships and had just buckled into an aisle seat on a Dash 8 bound for Toronto. Beside me in the window seat was an enormous man -- must have been six-foot-seven and easily 270 pounds -- with his knees jammed against his chest in the tiny aircraft.
The flight attendant walked by and made his last-minute checks.
"All buckled up, Mr. Russell?" he queried.
I was about to answer in the affirmative when the big man piped up and said everything was just peachy.
"Could use a little more leg room," he quipped.
Turned out this guy was Scott Russell, the Canadian champion in javelin -- a discipline we hadn't even bothered to cover on our broadcast. He was ultimately bound for Lawrence, Kan., where he attended university as a Master's student in education. He was, as I learned over the course of our conversation, a bit of a University of Kansas Jayhawks legend, having been the NCAA javelin champion in 2002, not to mention Commonwealth Games silver medallist in Manchester, England, that same year as well as the perennial winner of the Kansas Relays.
This Scott Russell was, quite literally, a giant in one of the oldest Olympic disciplines.
And he shared my name.
Well, from that point on, I've been curious to follow Scott Russell's career. And this past week, when the native of Windsor announced his retirement at the age of 34, it struck me that much of what he'd accomplished had been allowed to slip by largely unnoticed in his home country.
'I do have two regrets'
This Scott Russell went to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and made the final, winding up 10th. But as an 11-time Canadian champion, he'd been the only man to shine while wearing the maple leaf internationally. And he'd done it for a generation in the javelin throw.
Russell still holds the Canadian record of 84.81 metres, which is world class, and more, and has spent 15 years on the national track and field team. He represented Canada at three world championships, was a world junior phenomenon and is revered in his hometown, where he is one of the most illustrious graduates of the Windsor Legion Track Club.
"I do have two regrets about having to leave the sport," Russell told me the other day. "The first is not being able to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
"The second is not going to a major championship with another Canadian male javelin thrower. I have always wanted to share the knowledge of so many years competing and the mindset of being at a major championship with another athlete in my event."
In other words, this Scott Russell has been a bit of a lone wolf and worked in anonymity as far as most Canadian fans of sport are concerned.
'I did live the dream'
At the Beijing Games in 2008, CBC colleague Diana Swain, who co-hosted the morning show with me, played a little trick on our viewers. While I was out in the field shooting a story, Diana invited Scott Russell, the javelin thrower, to bring Olympic Morning on air from the anchor desk. Those precious seconds were the most exposure Scott Russell had ever enjoyed on Canadian network TV.
"I did live the dream in 2008," he laughed. "Even if it was just for a few brief moments in the spotlight, it really made my Olympic experience special.
"Often times in your career, you question if people truly care."
People should care. This Scott Russell made his mark with the javelin and represented his country with distinction.
"The amount of time dedicated to throwing a stick was more than worth it," he figured.
'I needed to dedicate myself'
Today, Russell still lives in Kansas with his wife Tiffany and one-year old daughter Violet. He's a physical and health education teacher at a middle school in nearby Bonner Springs and is the coach for the eighth-grade boys' football and girls' basketball teams. He's also just taken over as the head track and field coach at Basehor-Linwood High School.
"It was my wife who reassured me that I needed to dedicate myself to my life-long goal of an Olympic medal and I came up short," Russell reflected. "But now the athletes that I coach will have the benefit of someone who understands the ultimate high of the Olympic Games and the ultimate low of not qualifying."
In so many ways, the "other" Scott Russell has learned the stark lessons of winning and losing that sport offers. And I didn't want to let his remarkable career go unnoticed.
It's plain to me that the javelin thrower is the "real" Scott Russell because he can call himself an Olympian. He's actually done something on the field of play, which is something I can only dream of.
I wanted to tell Scott Russell how much I respect him and wish him well.
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