Brooklyn Boro

Julia Russo continues to defy all odds

February 27, 2023 Andy Furman
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It’s a decision every coach – at every level — in every sport – makes every season.

For Brendon Bain, it was a bit more difficult.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Bain, the women’s basketball coach at Kingsborough Community College told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It was two years ago, and we still had Covid restrictions on campus.”

And that made it real difficult for Bain’s decision on then freshman basketball player, Julia Russo.

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“I spoke to her dad,” Bain recalls, “But there were some real issues for me.”
One in particular – how to deal with an athlete with MS.”

Julia Russo suffers from Multiple Sclerosis – an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

“I received my BA in Therapeutic Recreation, working with disabilities,” Bain said, “And my MA is in Exercise Science. I thought I could handle the challenge.”

So far, he has – and so has his now sophomore basketball player.

Julia Russo hails from Marine Park and played varsity basketball at James Madison High School.

“During my junior year I transferred to Professional Pathways High School,” she said, “And continued playing basketball.”

Today Bain says Russo is, “The hardest worker, who never complains although suffers from constant pain, and has the biggest heart of anyone.”

The Physical Education major is planning to continue her basketball next season at either Brooklyn College, York or possibly Brooklyn’s St. Joseph University.

You’d expect nothing less from this fighter.

“Even though there are so many amazing things in this life,” Russo said, “My one stressor was getting diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“I first got sick at three years, and was diagnosed at six-years-old.”

Russo said doctors were treating her and didn’t know at the time what was wrong with her. “I was blind, paralyzed and on a feeding tube with little hope,” she said. “Doctors told my family that I wasn’t going to have much time left and eventually, a family priest had to come and recite my last rights to me.”

All the doctors could do, she remembers, was encourage my family, pray and – it worked.

“My weakness,” she said, “Became my greatest strength and inspiration. I will never give up on anything – no disease, illness or myself.”

Not even basketball.

Russo says she’ll never be defined by her condition – her strength and courage make her family so proud.

“I never would have imagined this life sixteen years ago,” she said, “And I’m so grateful I am able to live and share my story.”

Russo said the coaching staff at Kingsborough were concerned at first. The major problem with MS is heat – “It triggers me,” Russo said. “When I’m overheated, I’ll have no leg control, so I pace myself.”

And that’s when Coach Bain calls in for a sub. “During those time-outs,” the coach said, “We’ll get ice packs to rub down her legs.”

Russo’s a baller, too.
She had 10 rebounds, 10 points two assists and two steals recently against Nassau CC. “It probably was one of my best games,” she said, “I truly made my family proud that night.”

As for her teammates, Russo says they all know what’s going on. “I just don’t want them to look at me as the MS kid. My normal is MS.”

Russo contracted MS at a young age, which is quite rare.
Pediatric MS, also referred to as pediatric-onset MS (POMS), early-onset MS or juvenile MS, is generally defined as MS with an onset before the age of 16 years (sometimes before the age of 18 years). Between three and 10% of patients with MS present under 16 years of age and less than one percent under 10 years of age.

Basketball isn’t the only thing that keeps Julia Russo busy.

At the tender age of six she spent time in Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital. “A girl gave me a purple bike back then,” she recalled, “And I rode it all over the place.”

This past Christmas Russo spearheaded some 1,500 donations to that same Methodist Hospital. “I’ll send out flyers, and post on social media. I didn’t forget. I want to give back to the kids at the hospital.”

Bain says she’s the ultimate teammate.

“Some coaches may not want a kid with a disability,” Bain said, “But everyone should have an opportunity. Everyday she beats the odds.”

Sounds like the ultimate coach to me.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR.

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