University of Minnesota assistant wrestling coach Joe Russell will be
honored with the Medal of Courage from the National Wrestling Hall of
Russell will be honored by the Minnesota Chapter of the Hall of Fame
at a reception in Owatonna, Minn., this Saturday, Apr. 14., and will
be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at the 2007
Honors Weekend Banquet and Induction Ceremony on June 2 in Stillwater,
The Medal of Courage is presented annually to a wrestler or former
wrestler who has overcome what appeared to be insurmountable
challenges, which may be physical, mental or other handicaps that make
his or her achievements all the more uplifting.
Russell, who has spent the last 11 seasons as an assistant coach under
J Robinson's, has helped lift the Golden Gopher wrestling program to
new heights despite having to deal with severe physical challenges
caused by a motorcycle accident just before his senior year in high
One of the top high school wrestlers in the nation, Russell won two
state titles while compiling a 90-1 record through his junior year at
Gresham High School in Oregon. He was a double champion at the 1985
Junior Nationals and was an Espoir National Champion and placewinner
at the Espoir World Championships. In addition, Russell claimed two
World School Boy championships.
In 1985, however, Russell's life changed when a horrifying motorcycle
accident left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. He
was riding on the back of a friend's motorcycle when a truck pulled
out in front of them and, in an effort to avoid the truck, the cycle
flipped and the bike's foot peg jammed three inches into Russell's
Russell spent three weeks in a drug-induced coma and the process of
recovery was long and grueling, but he did recover and has not let his
physical challenges stop him from achieving both on and off the mat
Russell wrestled at the University of Minnesota from 1988-92, where he
served as the team's captain in 1991-92 and was named to the Academic
All-Big Ten team as a senior. He was also the winner of the team's
Fraser Dean Most Courageous Wrestler award. As a student-athlete,
Russell was named an IBM Student-Athlete of the Week and made the
Dean's list in law school his last two years. Russell completed his
juris doctorate in 1995 and earned his master's degree in sports
management this past December.
After serving two years as the marketing and promotions director for
the Minnesota wrestling program, Russell has spent the last 11 seasons
as an assistant coach under J Robinson. Since his first season as an
assistant coach in 1996-97, Minnesota has finished in the top three at
the NCAA Championships nine times, more than any other school in the
country, including capturing the third national title in seven years
last month. In addition, Minnesota has finished in the top two at the
Big Ten Tournament nine straight years, including winning the
conference title six times.
In addition to his responsibilities with the Golden Gophers, Russell
has also coached with the Minnesota Storm Junior World and University
teams. Under Russell's tutelage, the Storm have won four FILA Junior
National Championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. Russell's
coaching career has also featured a number of assignments with the
U.S. national teams.
In 1999, Russell was named the USA Wrestling FILA Junior/University
Person of the Year for his leadership within the organization.
On Saturday, Russell will be inducted along with six other individuals
at the Hall of Fame Banquet. Dr. Bill O. Manning will receive the
Outstanding American Award, and Kenneth Bergstedt, Fran McCann, Chuck
Prunty, Darrell Sohn and Virg Vagle will all be honored with the
"Lifetime of Service" Award.
Russell and his wife, Sadie, currently reside in Vadnais Heights, Minn.