Robbie Russell adjusts to anonymity and a new life at Georgetown

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the former D.C. United fullback retired to pursue a path to medical school at Georgetown University. Guest writer Ryan Bacic checks in with Russell on campus.

Seated across from his bemused classmate in Georgetown University's Blommer Science Library, Robbie Russell just laughs. "What are you interviewing him for?" she'd asked.

Only three months removed from his playing days, this is Russell's world now: Only once has the former D.C. United defender been recognized on Georgetown's campus for anything besides his age since classes began in August.

"It was everything I was afraid it was going to be and more," Russell tells me of his post-baccalaureate program, where he'll be completing his med-school prerequisites over the next year. "It's a huge transition.

"[Now] you're studying, memorizing, doing mathematics you haven't done in 15 years," adds Russell, who graduated Duke in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in statistics.

Still, Russell's doing everything he can, it'd appear, to jumpstart those dormant skills, his table in the "Group Study" section of the library littered with binders, flashcards, and models of molecules.

Organic Chemistry — considered by undergraduate students to be among the most difficult classes at Georgetown — is his hell, too. Following long days studying on campus, though, he now has a pair of friendly faces to come home to.

That hasn't always the case for Russell. After a decade spent in different cities, he pushed for a trade to DC United in 2011 to reunite with his wife, Tiana, who had signed on as an attorney at Washington-based Arnold & Porter LLP. Their son, Isaias, is now an active one at 11 months, just learning to kick a soccer ball like Robbie used to.

Isaias may not grow up with any real memory of his dad's playing days, but Russell noted that if all had gone according to plan, he would've actually left soccer before his son was even born.

"I've got to be honest: It probably would've been a very different road if [Tiana] had gotten a job right off the bat [upon returning to the States]," Russell says, admitting that the need for one steady income in the family was all that held him back. "I probably would've played through Salt Lake and then [retired].

"But the support's been unbelievable. I wouldn't be able to do this at all unless my wife was picking up all the stuff that I drop, in terms of working out who's taking [Isaias] to daycare, who's picking him up, who's making dinner tonight."

Those are challenges, obviously, that most of Russell's Georgetown classmates don't face.

Taking courses with current undergrads, he's the oldest student in most of his classes by some distance. "I'm walking around, and there's kids that look like — I'd think they were 12," he says.

So while the new father doesn't have as much time as he'd like to keep up with MLS these days, Russell does stay in touch with teammates and has offered to help out with the Georgetown men's soccer program. For now, though, Russell stays in shape not for games but for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, which he'll be running alongside his favorite professor on Nov. 10 to raise awareness for Kennedy's disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder.

This is Russell's new world, after all. He's long been studying for an orgo test next week, and he'll sit down next to the 12-year-olds to take it, wedding band snug on his finger.

His 2009 MLS championship ring is locked away at home.

For more information on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon please visit http://www.wilsonbridgehalf.com. To learn more about Kennedy's disease, please visit http://www.kennedysdisease.org.

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