By outreach@cw.ua.edu (Kayla Montgomery)

As the Fourth of July holiday draws near, countless people will trade the boardroom for board shorts, dress shoes for water skis and office supplies for River Rats and Coppertone, preparing to spend the holiday weekend at the nearest lake. University of Alabama junior Russell Durand will spend his holiday on the water as well, assisting with the Pro Ski Tour’s Malibu Cup in Tuscaloosa.

The weekend is one of few this summer where Durand is not competing himself. A member of the Alabama Waterski Team, the slalom-skier will compete next weekend in the Georgia State Water Ski Championships, looking to defend his state title for the third year 
in a row.

Before he was claiming titles, Durand enjoyed the sport, but it wasn’t until watching a friend of his father ski competitively that he realized what went into it.

“We thought we were pretty good, so we went and skied with them one day,” he said. “When we watched their son ski and how good they were and what they were doing, we fell in love with it, but realized we weren’t that good.”

Since then, Durand has competed regularly in tournaments. Although he started behind the curve, he said by his junior year in high school he was able to start topping friends who had beaten him earlier in his career, evening the score of the respected rivalries that are a part of the sport.

“I really started to be respectable where people would say, ‘This guy isn’t a pro, but he’s not a beginner,’” he said. “At that point, I started to get a little confidence. I was able to compete with my friends, and sometimes beat them.”

When the time came to choose a college, Durand knew that Alabama would be a contender due to its talented ski team and those surrounding the program, including coach Tom Strong.

“I went to a collegiate tournament and saw some of their skiers and met the coach, and they were incredible skiers. At that point I knew they were a serious consideration,” he said. “Between touring the campus and seeing how great the campus was, on top of how good the ski team was, I liked Dr. Strong, I liked the people, and just made up my mind that this is where I was 
going to ski.”

In his first year at the University, Durand fell short of securing a competing spot for the team, but since then, Strong said, his ability has improved tremendously.

“His unique personality, his gung-ho spirit, his genuine fondness for his teammates – he’s just a terrific young man. I don’t have enough nice things to say about him,” Strong said. “All of that aside, he has greatly improved since attending The University of Alabama in his slalom skiing. It’s gone from the point of not making the first team, to now being one of the dominant skiers on the team. His skiing ability has certainly been a benefit to the team as well.”

Though the Alabama Waterski Team does not compete in the summer, team members like Durand must compete during the off months to stay competitive once the team picks back up in the fall. Summer is what can make an athlete, said advisor Courtney Page, who hopes to see the program continue in its recent success and strides in recruiting.

“We’ve had a very good recruiting, and the University has always been very behind the ski team,” she said. “We also pull 
students from all over the country, even internationally, and I would like to see 
that continue.”

Durand, Page said, epitomizes the meaning of a team player.

“He’s here all summer, cleaning the boat, helping with tournaments, anything that is asked of him he will do,” she said. “He’s a strong skier, but his service and teamwork is what makes him so special.”

Though he’s currently focusing on the Georgia championships, Durand said he hopes to continue to see the team grow in the future, and finish atop the collegiate rankings. For himself, he said, he hopes to continue to improve, but mostly, to continue to enjoy the sport that captured his interest years ago for years to come.

…read more

Source:: The Crimson White Sports