It’s never been clear whether a person’s genes or upbringing influences their development more. For senior gymnast Dusti Russell, a case could be made for both.
Russell was born into a family of gymnasts, and both of her parents coach gymnastics. Her mom took her to the gym two weeks after she was born.
“Since I was young, [my siblings and I] grew up playing around in the gym,” Russell said.
A little less than 22 years later, she captains and competes for the No. 12 Gophers women’s gymnastics team.
Russell said to her, the sport was never about getting a scholarship.
“It was more that I really enjoyed the feeling of doing gymnastics,” she said.
Russell’s own formal training began when she was 2 years old, but her older siblings started working on her skills when she was even younger.
“They would kind of treat me like their doll,” Russell said. “They’d just flip me around and have me do gymnastics.”
While Russell said she enjoyed gymnastics right away, she didn’t have much of a choice. It’s in her blood.
Russell’s parents both competed at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and her father won the national title in parallel bars three times.
Her oldest sister, Rehana, competed for Minnesota from 2005-07.
Her other sister, Randi Jo, competed at Arizona.
And her brother Cody trains as an acrobat in Las Vegas.
And Russell said her family has had an enormous impact on her growth as a gymnast.
“I think I’m really lucky being the youngest, because I got to grow up and see the way they performed and the way they do gymnastics,” Russell said. “[I was able to] take things from what they did.”
Russell’s hard work led her to the Gophers as an all-around competitor. Her postition changed after an elbow injury a week into her first season on campus set her back.
“She actually had this great start [her] freshman year,” said head coach Meg Stephenson. “She was Big Ten Freshman of the Week and next weekend hurt her elbow.”
Russell competed only on beam and floor after that.
A foot injury before the start of her sophomore year further exacerbated the situation.
She showed her toughness, though, and earned a spot at the NCAA meet in the all-around that season.
“She ended up competing on [her foot] the whole year,” Stephenson said. “The ability to stay strong and deal with that pain was phenomenal.
“Not everyone can do that.”
Since then, however, Russell has never competed in more than two events at a given meet.
She may not have many scores on a stat sheet, but a judge can’t score the value she brings to the team.
“[As a leader], she’s very different, [but] in a good way,” said sophomore teammate Madie Hanley. “She has so much spunk and heart.
“She has a lot of faith in this team, and she’s just been so positive through her whole captain career. [She’s] been amazing.”