Zinedine Russell bids farewell to Rice University after success on track, in classroom

Zinedine Russell bids farewell to Rice University after success on track, in classroom

By Paul A Reid
Observer writer

Monday, June 01, 2020

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Despite being the child of two outstanding coaches, Zinedine Russell said she never felt pushed towards track and field, rather parents Michael Russell and Lorna Vernon used the more subtle approach.

A few weeks ago Zinedine, who excelled in the multi-events — the pentathlon and Heptathlon — graduated from the prestigious Rice University, ranked in the top 20 academically in the United States, with a degree in civil and environmental engineering and has accepted a position at Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc, she told the Jamaica Observer recently.

While she said her parents never pressured her into their favourite sport, she said they showed how the sport could open up doors for her.

“My parents never pressured me,” she said, “they just showed me the opportunities that I could get out of it (like chances to compete in different countries and obtain free tertiary education), and I decided to stick with it because I wanted those experiences and opportunities.”

The young Russell has made the very best of her opportunities, on the track and in the classroom and at the start of the spring semester her grade point average (GPA) was 3.99, “and I believe it was for the highest cumulative GPA for a female athlete at the start of the spring 2020 semester”, she said.

There were no hesitation when the former Convent of Mercy Academy “Alpha” student was asked which was more important, success in the classroom or on the track? She said from high school and through college she was “always reminded that I am a student first and then an athlete. I am aware that education is what I will have to rely on once athletic ability naturally fades with age, so school always came first, but track was a very close second.”

Since starting Rice in 2016, Russell has been on the President's Honour Roll (Top 10 per cent GPA) — five out of seven semesters, and the Conference USA-Commissioner's Academic Medal for three years — 2016, 2017, and 2018.

In her third year she was Conference-USA All-Academic Team, the James Redding Sims Scholarship from Rice Department of Civil Engineering, Outstanding Engineering Student Recognition Award, Texas Society of Professional Engineers Greater Houston Area, and Rice Athletics Honour Athlete.

This year she was Women's Track Scholar Athlete of the year (within track team) and Margie E Sass Scholar Athlete of the Year (across athletics), and this was before the end of the semester and all the academic honours were announced.

Combing academics and athletics was not easy but Russell said she could not afford to relax or take any short cuts on her way to her goals. “I found success by not compromising on my priorities. That meant I would forgo things like social events, so I could get enough sleep and time to study. It was necessary to do things that would allow my body and mind to perform at their best.”

Pursuing a degree in civil and environmental engineering, she says, was a good fit for her. “I had always been interested in preserving and restoring the environment (the earth is our home and we have to take care of it), and I was most comfortable in maths and science classes, so this major was a good fit for me.”

With the cancellation of the spring semester and the outdoor season, Russell had the option to return to Rice for one more year but said she felt it was time to move on to her next stage in life.

“My coaches were considering another year for me, but I was really looking forward to moving on and using the knowledge I have gained in these four years, and I let them know that,” she said.

Winning the pentathlon at the Conference USA Indoors Championships in March with a personal best 3,715 points as her team finally won the team title, was a great way to end her college career, she said.

“The teams in my conference are quite evenly matched, so every year we are always close to winning. For us to finally win in my senior year after I won the pentathlon felt like all our hard work had finally paid off.”

Thinking like the coaches' daughter that she is, Russell told the Observer winning the team title was the highlight of her four years. “Winning the Indoor Conference team title was the highlight of my time at Rice. My teammates, coaches, athletic trainers, who were like my family at Rice were all so happy and proud at that moment. It will be one of my most cherished memories.”

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