(Editor's note: MTN Sports did two separate interviews for this story, one with Russell on Dec. 20, 2020, and a second interview with Russell on Jan. 24, 2021.)
HELENA — Lanie Russell is a Helena High sophomore that is both a wrestler and a cheerleader, and between both sports and schoolwork, Russell noted it's certainly a challenge making sure she has time to get everything done.
"I have [wrestling] practices 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and then cheer practice 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. So my day is pretty much taken up," said Russell ahead of a wrestling practice in December. "I have to find time for schoolwork, which usually goes away into the night. So the scheduling is kind of stressful, also, having to travel a lot. Things like that; not necessarily the easiest thing to do. But so far, I've actually really enjoyed it. I love being busy."
There are pretty obvious differences between wrestling and cheerleading, but according to Russell there are a few similarities that people may not think about.
"I definitely think the family aspect of both teams. Like, I love being on a team, they're like my family. But at the same time, being on the wrestling team is also like a really big family environment. So, like I feel myself getting closer and closer to like my coaches every day, getting closer to my wrestling teammates," said Russell in December.
According to the Montana High School Association's bylaws, cheer is not designated as a competitive sport so Russell is able to compete in both. But in most cases, it's ill-advised for reasons Russell explained above. Despite that, Russell said she wanted to give herself a challenge and see how she would handle the adversity.
"I had no logical reason to start wrestling, especially since I'd already done cheer season for football. And I saw the poster like wanting people to join [the wrestling team] and I said, you know, 'I'm gonna do it. I'm just gonna start and see how it goes,' and then I started and I fell in love with it," Russell said in January. "Now it's one of my favorite sports ever. When, like two months ago, I had no idea what anything was about."
The two interviews with Russell were done nearly a month apart, partly to give Russell the time to ponder the answer to the question, "Does it get any easier trying to balance both sports and school work?"
"I love it. I mean, it definitely gets overwhelming at times, but it's been overwhelming since the beginning. But at the same time, it's like, I love it. I mean, I feel like I balance it pretty well," said Russell. "I wake up every morning expecting and knowing what to what I'm going into and, like, pretty much dreading it throughout the school day. And then when I get to it, it's like, the best thing ever."
Russell went into the winter season knowing she would be with the cheer squad, but when she brought up the idea of trying out for the wrestling team to head cheer coach Alexis Navarette, there was hardly a conversation to be had.
"She came to me with a proposal of wanting to do wrestling. And I said, 'Absolutely. Contact that coach right now. I want you at their practices,' You know? 'If it's something that you want to pursue, then absolutely, go for it,'" Navarette said.
Russell, Navarette, and head wrestling coach Sam Bogard came together to find a way to make it work, and per Navarette when it seems like it's worked out so far as the wrestling season reaches its end.
In December, Bogard noted that Russell had seen some highs and lows in a wrestling meet in Great Falls the weekend prior and knew it would be a crucial point for her.
“She can't get down on herself. She's got to take every win and loss and learn from them. I— her first loss this weekend, she didn't like that at all. And, you know, I don't blame her. But, you know, she's gonna learn from it. And that's the first thing I looked at her. I said, 'So, what did you learn?'”
The same question Bogard posed then, MTN posed to Russell on a broader scale in January.
"What did you learn about yourself?" asked MTN Sports.
“I learned that I'm a lot more resilient than I thought I was. I — I don't know, I always felt like, I always put limits on myself and think I can't do things. And I wasn't until I tried to two sports, and went into a completely new sport that I had no idea about that I was like, 'I truly, I have faith now in my abilities and what I can do.”
Though the credit for doing what she is doing certainly goes to Russell, she's adamant that a good bit of credit goes to those who have helped her along the way.
"I love [Bogard and Navarette] both very dearly, and they have supported me through everything. They've truly been like my support system behind everything. And I don't think I'd be the person I was today if I didn't have both of them," said Russell in January. "They constantly are just great reminders and tell me how proud they are of me and I really appreciate that and I love them for that."
As for doing both at the same time next year? In January, Russell said it's unlikely, but she's not putting the brakes on the idea completely, just yet.
“I plan on doing cheer season for football, and then I'll not do [cheer] and then do wrestling season. So it's a little bit more balanced out. But we'll see, you never know. Anything can happen."