Today we share with you our interview from former grand national and world twirling champion, Chelsea Russell! Chelsea is a former University of Iowa Golden Girl and is now a twirling coach and judge.
Only Twirlers: How old were you when you started twirling?
Chelsea: I was three years old. My mom never wanted me to twirl, but apparently i was quite interested in what all the noises were in the back of the house (aka drops of her students' batons). Once I found out what it was, I BEGGED to start!
Only Twirlers: Who inspires you as a twirler?
Chelsea : She is younger than I am, but it doesn't matter - Savannah Miller. She is the fiercest competitor, the hardest worker, and one of the most genuine people I know. Her tricks are insane, and her precision is beyond admirable. My biggest inspiration growing up, however, was Brandy Martin Kirschner (and she is still my role model!). She had some of the most unique content around, and the fact that she always pushed me to be my best when we went to the gym was a huge part of my success. Brandy was like the best big sister I never had. She taught me the importance of work ethic, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Only Twirlers: What is the funniest thing that ever happened when you were twirling/competing?
Chelsea: I love this question! I could probably give you a million answers...they best part of twirler is the amount of laughs it brings to my life! The funniest moment I can think of right now, though, happened at AYOP in 2008. Karrissa Wimberley were doing our duet in the first round, and it was a world qualifying year. We had a trick where we did an illusion so close our bodies were almost touching, and I was in front. I was so nervous that I did my flourish COMPLETELY off pattern, and I heard a thud and felt my arm get kind of stuck. I thought, "That was weird," but I kept going. Later on in the routine, Karrissa and I placed our batons on each other's necks for back neck rolls, and I will never forget her face when we did it - she had blood STREAMING out of both of her nostrils. But she was smiling! In typical Karrissa fashion, she kept twirling strong and didn't even have any drops. When we got off the floor, we went running to get some ice, and I just remember my mom yelling, "The costume! Don't get any blood on the costume!!!" It's funny now, but at the time it was horrible! Definitely something I'll never forget.
Only Twirlers: What is it like to grow up with a mom as a coach?
Chelsea: If I'm being honest, it's a double edged sword. I love my mom more than anything in the world, and I truly believe she is the best coach in America, if not the world. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't have achieved any of my goals - she is unique, creative, strict, and endlessly talented, and I respect her coaching ability more than I can adequately articulate. But...sometimes it was difficult to separate her role as my coach from her job as my mother. I couldn't always differentiate which hat she was wearing, and as a kid, that can be a difficult thing to deal with. That being said, I would not change one moment of my twirling career, least of all the time spent with my mom in the gym. She taught me everything I know.
Only Twirlers: What did it mean to you to be a college twirler?
Chelsea: Oh man. Twirling in college is THE BEST. I realize that is not the most eloquent way of expressing my feelings, but it's true! Hearing your name called in front of 70,000 screaming fans and having the opportunity to represent not only a band, but a team and even a school? That is true bliss. I miss twirling for the University of Iowa more than anything, and I love going back to Homecoming each year to retake the field with the Alumni Band. I adore competitive twirling, but there is something so incredible about the college twirling experience I can't quite explain. It's just FUN. And fulfilling. And a wild ride. It really felt like the pinnacle of my twirling career - the icing on the cake of my competitive achievements.
Only Twirlers: How has the transition for you been from competitor to coach?
Chelsea: There wasn't really much of a transition! When I was 15, a woman whose name I don't
remember asked me if I would teach her daughter a roll lesson at a USTA competition in Long Island. I was flabbergasted - if you had asked me at the time, I thought I was terrible at rolls. That was the first lesson I ever taught. After that, I was thrown into a number of teaching situations that terrified me (South East Camp of Champions in GA, Golden Triangle in FL, picking up a few students of my own in NY). I had no idea what I was doing. But, as you might have guessed, coaching taught me way more about baton twirling than competing ever did. There is something very humbling and informative about re-learning the basics. To go back and learn how to instruct someone to do a thumb toss or finger twirls can make a big difference in one's own technique, and it also helps improve a person's ability to work behind the judging table. Now, I've been coaching for 11 years, I choreograph upwards of 20 freestyles a year, I've taught all over the country, Canada, and Europe, and I've made a ton of friends through coaching. It's the best job ever, and I wish I could do it full time. Unfortunately, I don't have any regular private students at the moment, due to my full-time job as an English teacher, Dance Line instructor, and Drama Club adviser, but coaching is still a major part of my life. I do miss competing, and I probably always will, but I love the fact that I get to give back to the sport that gave me so much by coaching and judging the next generation of twirlers.