Bob Russo, president of Downtown United Soccer Club, during the 26-mile bicycle ride in the New York City Triathlon in July.
Russo pushes himself, and soccer league, to excel
By Judith Stiles
Decades ago, as men and women tiptoed along toward their sixth decade in life, they looked forward to retirement, slowing down and maybe a little light golf. Today, as the baby boomers reluctantly age out of being middle-aged, they tend to eagerly look at the next chapter in life as a time to experiment, reinvent themselves, and perhaps take up a new sport. And shuffleboard is definitely not on their list.
When community activist and Downtown United Soccer Club founder Bob Russo trotted past his 56th birthday, he read about an open invitation by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for athletes to sign up for the 2007 New York City Triathlon. Russo had no experience with triathlons, but was moved to sign up because he lost his father and stepfather to leukemia. He joined Team In Training, or T.N.T., an organization that prepares athletes for marathons, triathlons and century bicycle rides 100-mile rides committing to five months of expert training, three times a week.
Russo did not abandon his regular DUSC presidential duties, nor did he jump ship from his day job as a C.P.A. Rather, like any of his projects, he plunged into training full throttle.
I completed this event in honor of my father, who died of leukemia at the age of 27, and my stepfather, who died of leukemia at age 60, as well as all individuals who are battling blood cancers, said Russo smiling recently over a quick cup of coffee, which he did not give up during training.
Having successfully completed the .9-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride, and the 10-mile run in the Nautica New York City Triathlon in July, Russo admits that he is hooked. He will begin training for the St. Anthonys Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Fla., an Ironman event slated for 2009, and several other races in between.
One of the side benefits of training has been that Russo feels rejuvenated with a greater sense of well-being. This, in turn, has given him a greater calmness and the ability to quickly eliminate activities in his life that seemed like a waste of time.
Getting through this training has given me a whole new perspective, where I am more relaxed and not nearly as tense: Be patient, have a goal, and visualize it in your mind, he said.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Russo has reinvented a healthy lifestyle for himself, while at the same time reinvigorating the ever-expanding Downtown United Soccer Club. First, he created the Little Stars Program for 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children, in which the youngsters become acquainted with soccer in a relaxed and fun-filled program.
Next, Russo recently launched the Gotham Girls Soccer Club, a new all-girls program closely affiliated with DUSC; Russo says there is a sister-brother relationship between DUSC and Gotham Girls. The two programs share coaches, field space, registration and brain power, including DUSC executive board member Cindy Sirko, Travel Team director Eric Johnson and Director of Coaching Gustavo Palomino. Together they hired sports psychologist Courtney Carroll, and for both boys and girls they brought in Paul Jeffries to be director of coaching for the DUSC recreational program and the Central City Initiative, a soccer outreach program that goes into public schools and teaches the game to kids for free.
And if that seems like more than enough for one triathlete to be handling outside of his personal training, well, think again, because Russo also has his eye on helping the more serious soccer players at DUSC. His goal has been to raise the level of youth play in general in Lower Manhattan, which has been facilitated by hiring expert licensed coaches from around the world. DUSC currently boasts coaches from England, Jamaica, Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Romania, as well as former U.S. professional players. In addition, Russo formed an alliance with the New York Red Bulls professional soccer team and their academy, under which Red Bulls coaches observe DUSC games, give tactical advice and conduct clinics with local players.
In celebration of this newly forged relationship, Saturday night Sept. 29 will be DUSC/Gotham Girls night at Giants Stadium, where Downtown Manhattans local teams will parade on the field in uniform with their own banners. And with binoculars, you just might catch a glimpse of Russo out on the field with the players at halftime but, then again, you might not recognize him. This fellow who is heading toward 60 keeps hearing over and over again, Bob, you look great! You look 10 years younger! How do you keep up with everything you do at your age?