When the University of Minnesota offered a scholarship to Joe Russell, the head of Mason’s Division 1 wrestling team, they knew they were taking a risk.

In 1985, during his junior year of high school, Russell won national championships in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.

He was on his way to becoming the star of college wrestling when a terrible accident changed his path.

“I got into a motorcycling accident before my senior year in high school,” Russell said.

“I had a compound skull fracture with lacerations of the brain, and I was completely paralyzed on the left side of my body.”

Russell had a choice to make. He could leave the wrestling world or stay knowing the chances for a full recovery were slim.

“After the accident I felt like even though I was supposed to die, for some reason I lived, and I knew I was going to come back as a wrestler,” Russell said.

Russell was recruited by the University of Minnesota in 1988. The coach hoped he could make a full recovery.

Russell eventually regained the majority of feeling in his left side but was not able to compete at the same intensity as he did before.

“Wrestling motivated me to keep fighting through the recovery time,” Russell said.

After graduation, Russell became the assistant coach at the University of Minnesota where he assisted in coaching three NCAA championship teams and 11 individual national champions over his 17 years with the program.

When Russell learned about the opportunity to work with the Mason wrestling team, he applied.

“I saw a lot of promise in the Mason program, and I saw an opportunity to have a bigger impact on the athletes and the sport,” Russell said.

The team’s current record is 6-16, an improvement from last season’s record of 0-21.

“For my first year at Mason I really wanted to learn what the needs of the program were,” Russell said.

“Now it’s about trying to move the program in a positive direction.”

The team will keep training all spring and summer to prepare for the next season.

“There are a lot of sacrifices. It takes courage to get out there when it’s just you and one other person,” Russell said.

Coaching is not what Russell initially had in mind, but he has succeeded in influencing the careers of others and being an image of success in the face of adversity.

“It’s about attitude and effort. If players have a good attitude and put in all their effort, I believe they can do a great job,” Russell said.

Fans can keep updated at Russell’s blog, masonwrestling. wordpress.com