Andrew Russell watches a video of his C2-500 metre race at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He describes the last 100 metres as if he were seeing through “tunnel-vision” — a crucial time of focus and endurance. “My heart rate was through the roof at that point. I was just concentrating on doing anything I could to stay smooth and then just driving to the finish-line,” he says. Russell and his teammate finished fifth in that race, making Canadians back home proud.
Representing Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was no small feat for Russell, a Dartmouth native who grew up paddling at the Banook Canoe Club. He says an average paddler who’s training will do a million strokes a year, and that challenge is what he loves most about the sport. “You absolutely push your limits all the time.”
As an RBC Olympian for the Atlantic provinces, Russell splits his time between training for national and international competitions while working as a community ambassador, spreading the Olympic message. Born and raised in Nova Scotia and a proud Martimer who boasts positivity and optimism, Russell is the perfect fit for the gig.
One of the best parts of his job is being able to collaborate with organizations like the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia. “When people are at a low point in their lives and need assistance, the ACNS is there to help. Having that support system available is pretty important,” he says of the organization that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. “You can just tell by the group of people that work there that they’re so passionate about the cause.”
This May, the ACNS is holding The RBC Amazing Challenge for AIDS fundraiser for the second year in a row. Russell plays a key role in the planning of the fundraiser and notes the growing number of teams already registered for the challenging day. “It’s a different kind of fundraiser. I think it’s something people can really get a lot out of.”
Those participating in The Amazing Challenge shouldn’t expect it to be easy. Russell is an Olympic athlete, after all. “You get to think outside the box and plan ridiculous things,” he says of planning the challenges. “They’re things you don’t think of on a day-to-day basis.”
“All the teams that came out last year were very competitive. They came out to win. It was a lot of fun for everyone because they took it seriously,” Russell says, impressed of the team spirit that was shown last year. He expects the same thing from this year’s teams.
“Recognize the overall strengths and weaknesses of your team and try to utilize all your members,” advises Russell. “Someone who’s more mathematically inclined may have the best answer for one challenge, while someone who’s more athletically inclined can help out somewhere else. There’s a niche for everyone on the team.”