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Chasing the Olympic dream

Kingswood student wins national championship in judo

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by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

RIAN RUSSO won gold at the youth national championships in Pennsylvania. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 22, 2018
WOLFEBORO — When he was nine years old, Rian Russo was looking for a new sport.

Eight years later, the Kingswood student was competing on the national level and bringing home a championship to the Lakes Region in the process.

Russo's sport of choice is judo and at the national championships in Pennsylvania a few short weeks ago, he earned that national championship and earned the chance to compete at the international level this coming summer.

"I didn't really like baseball anymore and I wanted to try something else," Russo said. His father was a police officer and his partner's younger brother was doing judo and Russo gave it a try. "I did my first tournament and I automatically fell in love with the sport and I've been doing it ever since."

To compete at such a high level, Russo trains with the Olympic team, which requires a lot of travel just to get to his training. The training center is in Wakefield, Mass. and he is there four nights a week for an hour and a half each night. And then there's competitions, which usually take place once a month, mostly around New England but Russo recently traveled to both Pennsylvania and Canada. For a busy high school student, it's just another thing to add to the list of things on his list.

"I try to balance as well as I can," Russo said, noting he does his judo workouts in the morning before school and after school he goes to track practice as a member of the Kingswood track team. He then heads straight to judo training four nights a week. He does homework at night but also makes use of his task period and study halls during the school day.

"Those things really help," Russo said.

Russo, who just turned 17 years old, remembers talking with a coach when he was just starting out and asking how far he could go with judo. The coach told him that judo is in the Olympics, so that immediately became a goal for the youngster. He began training with Olympians and is hoping to be on track to make an Olympic team in the next few years.

Russo noted that 2020 was a possibility, when the Summer Olympics head to Tokyo, Japan, but after having three knee surgeries recently, he is looking more toward 2024, when the Olympics will be held in Paris, France.

"Really, the goal is 2024," Russo said. "The Olympics have been my dream ever since I started."

While noting that competing in 2020 is likely not in the cards, Russo is hoping to attend the Olympics as a training partner, which means he will travel with the team and help warm up the athletes prior to the matches.

"Just to get experience before I get to actually compete there," Russo said of the benefits of the possibility of being a training partner. "And see the level of competition."

At the national championships in Pennsylvania, Russo took first place in the 90KG weight class, which gave him the national championship and earned him the chance to compete in the Pan America Games this summer in Argentina.

Shortly after winning his national championship, Russo traveled to Canada and competed with a group of athletes selected by former Olympian Travis Stevens.

"He picked the team from all around the country," Russo said. "And I was one of the athletes he selected to take to the tournament."

At that tournament, Russo also took top honors, earning another win to add to his impressive resume so far.

The nine-year-old with the dream is still alive and well somewhere inside Rian Russo. And those dreams he harbored all those years ago are inching closer and closer to becoming reality.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or josh@salmonpress.news.

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