Homemade ice cream social to raise funds for paralyzed cyclist

Friday, July 27, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:32 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Sam Russell was paralyzed from the waist down when he struck a tree head-first.

Columbia- Sam Russell has been an avid bicycle rider his entire life, thanks to generations of enthusiasts in his family, including his Uncle Walt, who founded Walt’s Bicycle Fitness and Wilderness Co. Even now, after a biking accident left the 28-year-old paralyzed from the waist down, he can’t wait to get back on the trails.

Following Sam’s example of looking forward, his family has organized several fundraisers, including an ice cream benefit this Sunday, to help raise money for Sam and his family.

Born and raised in Boone County, he started working at Walt’s Bicycle Fitness and Wilderness Co. at age 15, even though his uncle Walt Johnson-Gerard had sold it earlier to pursue his interests in wheelchair customization. Sam worked at the bike shop until he moved to Sun Prairie, Wis., four years ago to accept his dream job at Trek Bicycle Corp.

On June 28, Sam started on a trail ride that would forever change his life. He struck a tree head-first on an unfamiliar trail.Though his helmet saved his life, he broke several ribs and vertebrae that left him paralyzed from his waist down.

Though his legs might have stopped working, Sam’s will to lead a normal life has inspired his family.

“He accepted the news,” said his mother, Nancy Russell. “He came out of surgery, was put into intensive care, on painkillers and drugs, but all he could talk about was the future. He told me, ‘Something came over me when I realized I wanted to live. I wanted to have a lifetime with my beautiful wife and my three beautiful girls.’”

Nancy describes Sam’s wife, Brie Russell, as his rock, taking every new twist in her marriage and facing it with a brave face, making the hour-long trip to Froedtert Lutheran Hospital, where Sam is in rehabilitation, at least four or five times a week with their three daughters: Fionn, 4, Neav, 3, and Nori, 10 months.

“Immediately, Sam thought, ‘Uncle Walt and I can rig up some neat things’ so he can continue to enjoy the outdoors,” Johnson-Gerard said.

His mother said he can’t wait to get on a bicycle again, though next time he will have to pedal with his hands.

This Sunday, the family will host a homemade ice cream fundraiser for the Sam Russell Family Benefit Fund to help the family buy a new wheelchair-friendly home.

The benefit will be held at Olivet Christian Church, 1991 S. Olivet Road, at 3 p.m. Sunday. Generations of Sam’s family will come together. A Model-T will power an ice cream maker, and friends have volunteered to bring other sweets.

For a donation, you get ice cream and cake, and it’s an opportunity for friends to visit Russell through pictures and relatives, Nancy said.

The family is also planning an August fundraiser with childhood friend and NASCAR racer Carl Edwards, who will be available for pictures and autographs.

For more information or to make a donation, go to

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