Adversity is a funny thing. It can break you down. Bring you to your knees. Make you feel less than. Or… it can make you stronger. Tougher. Even confirm your love for what you do. Adversity can be a negative or transformed into the ultimate positive.
For professional mountain biker and Blenders Entourage athlete, Russell Finsterwald, adversity was absolutely the latter—a test that turned into triumph.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Russell has long made time to enjoy the mountains. As a backpacker, photographer (check out his Insta!), and all-around outdoor enthusiast, he’s climbed more than 60 of Colorado’s most tremendous peaks. But biking… biking has been his one true love almost since the beginning.
In his youth, Russell was addicted to mixing it up on tarmac and gravel, and wasted little time joining the competitive ranks. By 13, he was racing bikes, and since pedaling into the competitive scene, he’s dominated contests at a blistering pace.
Among Russell’s ever-growing war chest of multi-discipline biking honors are 5 National Championships (yes, FIVE!), a U23 Pan American Championship, participation on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Long Team, and U.S. representation during no less than 7 World Championships. In fact, he’s ascended the podium more than 40 times in his career.
Despite all the successes, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. (And with mountain biking… when is it ever?)
A crash during competition in June 2017 on what Russell called “the easiest trail you could possibly imagine” resulted in a broken collarbone and multiple torn ligaments. The result? Six months off from competition and extensive physical therapy.
Six months off from biking can feel like an eternity. But we’re all most defined by how we respond to adversity, and Russell’s no different. The setback only served to refocus him and confirm his love of the sport.
Unfortunately, the injury wasn’t the only setback that year—he also learned his team would not be returning for the 2018 season, leaving him without necessary sponsorship. Rather than let that latest heaping helping of adversity get him down, Russell went to work. He spent the next several months putting together his own team but, while he successfully locked-in a couple of sponsors, it wasn't quite enough. His perseverance was ultimately rewarded, however, as just before 2018's Fontana ProXCT, he scored a spot on the Clif Pro Team and was back at it.
Appropriately, Russell’s career has been a wild ride… and he sure as hell isn’t done mixing things up yet.
Pivoting once more, Russell is joining fellow mountain biker and Blenders Entourage athlete, Sofia Gomez Villafañe, on their newly formed Specialized Off-Road team for the 2022 season. The refreshed focus will see both riders competing in a thrilling 50/50 mix of gravel and cross-country races, including the Lifetime Grand Prix Series. (The latter will also feature fellow Entourage member, Keegan Swenson.)
Speaking on the new outlook, Russell mused: “In 2021, I dipped my toes into the world of gravel racing and instantly knew I wanted to do more of it moving forward. […] Above all, I want to continue having fun on two wheels and enjoying the journey that is professional cycling.”
Cheers to the journey, Russell… and thanks for having us along for the ride!