By Melanie Barrios
For athletes, coaches serve as mentors, teachers, and friends, impacting their lives and creating relationships that last a lifetime. Everyone has their reasons for coaching. For Ronald Russell, his motivation is working with people who are inspired to do their best.
Like many before, Ronald was enticed by Special Olympics after attending his first sporting event. When he met his wife, she had a son who has triple palsy and he had just completed his first athletics event. The other participants could run independently, and their son was the only participant with a walker. This was Ronald’s favorite memory—watching their son run 50 meters. “It took him about two minutes to finish the 50 meters, and I was just a big puddle. By the time he was done, it was very emotional. In his drive, he never quit; he just kept going until he was finished,” Ronald shares. Watching his son accomplish the 50 meters and seeing the way the crowd cheered on the athletes that day is what inspired him to start his coaching journey with Special Olympics. As Ronald likes to say, he was ‘hooked!’
For thirty years, Ronald has been a champion for inclusion on and off the field. Currently, he is the head coach of San Gabriel Valley track and field and football coach for Alhambra High School. Although there might be slight differences in coaching Special Olympics athletes and high school athletes, Coach Russell treats everyone the same. “I am who I am. I think they respect that more. I don’t try to treat them some other kind of way and they respond to that. They feel like they’re getting the real me, and that’s all I know how to do is be real.”
Ronald loves to push the athletes coaches and make sure they are doing the best to their ability and then some. He fully understands the meaning of being a great role model, which shows when he speaks candidly about Special Olympics and his impact as a coach. The athletes have taught him so much about work ethics and there is a sense of pride for every athlete he has coached.
“I might show them how to do something, but they teach me all about life. The drive [Special Olympics athletes] have to get things done or the obstacles they have in their way, we don’t have any problems—I have an [athlete] who walks 800 meters, and he can hardly walk 10 meters without help, and he gets out there and chugs around that track for two laps, and that’s amazing to me.”
The way the athletes handle themselves in what they do inspires Ronald to do what he does. Ronald’s goal at the end of the day is all the great makings of a coach-athlete relationship. His compassion and demonstrating appropriate behaviors are behind the success of Special Olympics athletes.