“It’s in your blood.” The phrase means a certain skill or characteristic comes easily. It’s natural. It’s something you have the innate talent to do. For freshman gymnast Dusti Russell, the phrase has a whole new depth to the meaning. Coming from a family of gymnasts, the phrase is literal. Gymnastics runs through her veins.
It all started at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where her parents Dave and Debbie met as gymnastics student-athletes. He was a National Champion on parallel bars and she was an All-American on balance beam. They shared a love for the sport that turned into a shared career. The pair now train younger gymnasts at Oshkosh Gymnastics Center. Then came the first born, Rehana. There was no doubt she was going to be an elite competitor and she worked her way through the program to a collegiate career. She was a standout competitor on the uneven bars here at the University of Minnesota from 2005-2007, where she ended her tenure with a career-best score of 9.850. Randi Jo, Dusti’s second oldest sister, was next. She is now currently competing at the University of Arizona. Like Rehana, Randi Jo’s strongest event is the uneven bars. This season she has posted multiple marks of 9.900 or higher on the event. The third child, a son named Cody, was the next in line. Even though he ended his competition streak after high school, Cody continues to use his gymnastics skills as a member of an acrobatic show that performs in Myrtle Beach. Obviously the gymnastics blood runs thick in the Russell family.
Dusti says that her and her siblings never felt pressure from their parents to take up the sport but lucky it stuck with all of them. In most gymnastics families, the kids start young. Dusti’s first trip to the gym was when she was a mere two weeks old and even before competing she spent most of her days with her parents at work. However, it wasn’t until she was two years old that she was enrolled in her first gymnastics class, still a lot sooner than most other college gymnasts who start classes around the age of three or four.
“The best thing about having so many gymnasts in the household is that we all had the same thing in common,” she says of the advantages to being surrounded by gymnasts. “We were always hyper and flipping around the house. My dad used to spot us for hours on flips in our yard and we would make up gymnastics routines to perform for our parents.” Not so hard to imagine with six gymnasts living in the same space.
There are some hazards that can come with a gymnastics family. Luckily, the Russell’s seem to have figured out how to avoid those pitfalls. Dusti was only coached by her mom during preschool and Level Four classes when she was seven years old. Her dad mostly coached on the uneven bars event. When parents are coaches there can be extra pressure to be the top performer on the team. This is something that Dusti acknowledges whole-heartedly. “My parents were never my full club coaches. I would have had a much harder time had my parents pressured me or tried to coach me at home, but they have always supported me and say that they are proud of me no matter what.”
“I can’t think of many negatives, but sometimes it was intimidating thinking about living up to the accomplishments of my siblings and parents.”
It’s Dusti that follows in mom’s footsteps. Beam is her favorite and strongest event in her arsenal. Due to an elbow injury, Dusti has only competed on beam in seven meets so far this season. But, in those meets she has never scored below a 9.70, and has already established a career-best score of 9.900. The coaches decided to keep her original choreography from her club days for her beam routine because of its difficulty and originality. Her mount, in which she jumps on the beam directly into the split position, it one of the most unique mounts in the nation.
Before her injury, Dusti competed as the lone all around contender for the Gophers in the first two meets of the season. She is a double threat with the power and intensity in her maneuvers but also has the artistry and grace of dance. As the youngest of four children, Dusti had the advantage of watching techniques and styles and has picked up traits from each of her family members to create her own dominating combination.
“When it comes to competition and style I think I am a mix between my sisters and my mom,” she says. “Rehana was not the most powerful, but what she did was always beautiful. Randi is very powerful and dynamic in everything she does. People always say I took a little bit of each of them. My old coach also used to say I got my beam from my mom. My mom was a top beam worker and I think I got the love of it from her.”
She does have one trait that is different from her family.
“A trait I have that the rest of my family didn't have as much of is flexibility.” Even so, she still gives credit to her sisters, “I thank my sisters for that because when I was still a baby they would stretch me all the time, even when if I would start crying.”
Her flexibility is not all for which Dusti credits Rehana. “When Rehana came here it was my first real look at a college team. I was young but watching her work out and hearing her stories I knew I wanted an experience like hers,” she says. Everyone was so nice, and when Rehana would tell me about the coaching style here at Minnesota, it made me want to come here more. As soon as I started being recruited I had it in the back of my head that I was going to Minnesota if they had a spot for me.”
Gymnastics is a family affair for the Russells. Even now, with the youngest one in college, the family still makes sure to share their love and support for each other. Dusti’s parents have been able to travel from Wisconsin to be at almost every home meet. The rest of her family have made appearances here and there and the Russell family was out in full force to see Dusti and her teammates when they hosted the Big Ten Championships in the Sports Pavilion last weekend.
“A lot of my family that not seen me compete as a Gopher yet came to Big Tens, so having this be their first meet was very exciting. Since it is my first Big Ten meet I was so excited to have it in our home arena. I knew that would be extra motivation and extra confidence for us to go out there and nail our routines like we always do.”
Story Written By: Kate Wadman