June 28, 2013
The U.S. women's senior national team opened Champion Challenge with an 18-4 win over England in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
The U.S. women's senior national team opened Champion Challenge with an 18-4 win over England in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Russell a Rare 9-to-5er on Coach-Heavy U.S. Team

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Jenn Russell brings the same tenacity to cancer research fundraising as she has to Team USA since 2008.

OSHAWA, Ontario -- Most weekdays, U.S. women's national team midfielder Jenn Russell rises early and either lifts or runs before she goes to work. After putting in eight hours as a prospect manager for the annual giving team at the development office at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she'll lift or run, whichever one she didn't do in the morning, and put in some time playing wall ball. On weekends, it's all three – running, lifting and playing. Russell hoards her vacation days so she can use them for Team USA commitments.

She wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's such a special opportunity, and such a special team. And I love the sport, so any time I can play is awesome," Russell said. "It's something you're so proud of, being a part of the U.S. lacrosse team."

Of the 24 players on the traveling roster for this weekend's North America Challenge Cup, 15 are head coaches or assistants at NCAA Division I programs. Fitting the training regimen and travel requirements of a world-class athlete into any working schedule is difficult, but coaches can expect some flexibility regarding their U.S. national team obligations, since time spent with the defending Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Cup champions can benefit the college players that they coach.

For 9-to-5ers like Russell, there's no direct professional upside to knowing how to ride a clear or box out on a draw control. The onus to make things work in the office and on the lacrosse field is on her.

"It's definitely a balance," Russell said. "I make lacrosse a priority in my life, and I just make it work."

Russell has been a member of the U.S. national team since 2008, when she was named to the (now defunct) Developmental Team as a rising junior at North Carolina. She helped the Tar Heels to their first-ever NCAA championship game in 2009, then went to the final four and was a Tewaaraton Award finalist during her senior year. When she finished college in 2010, graduating with a communications degree, Russell knew she wasn't done with competitive lacrosse.

"Being able to play at this level and with people who are so talented is something that is so special, and something that not a lot of people get to do," Russell said. "It's a unique experience to come out and learn from people who are so talented."

Russell served as a volunteer assistant on the Harvard staff during the 2011 season, but has been with Dana-Farber, a leading cancer treatment and research hospital in Boston, for the past year. The development department cultivates donors to raise money for research and patient care. Russell's typical day is a mix of office work and donor outreach, including giving tours of the institute.

"It's definitely a priority for me to learn about the research that's being done," she said. "It's challenging getting to know all they do. It's a great job and I'm really proud to work at Dana-Farber, and going to work every day is awesome."

Out of the office and on the lacrosse field, Russell is less the empathetic fundraiser and more the gritty defensive midfielder. In Team USA's 21-4 rout of Canada Red at the North America Challenge Cup, Russell had a team-high six draw controls and served as an integral part of the U.S.'s high-pressure defense. She likes staying on the cutting edge of lacrosse as much as she likes staying on the cutting edge of Dana-Farber's cancer research.

"I look forward to these weekends, and being around these people. I'm learning every day, every time I go out with this team," Russell said. "If I can continue to play and be a part of that and help us get better, then I will."

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