OSCEOLA, Mo — When Hal Russell invites you to his home for coffee, you’ll take the dirt road – to the gravel one – to his driveway. It’s true country.
“Growing up, we never had a bathroom in our house. We were real country folk!,” explained Hal.
You’ll notice his mailbox: It’s symbolic of his favorite past time. “I make pottery, and this my little pottery shop here.”
His wife, Linda, laughs at his ever-growing collection: They line the walls. Everything from dragonflies, to more exotic designs.
“I’ve been doing this a while. If I can draw it, I can make it.”
At least when the brew finishes, choices are plentiful. And when Hal begins to open up, as he often does, there are some things you should know: Like how that cup holding your java, really wasn’t his 1st love. That diamond belongs to another.
“If they didn’t have a catcher growing up, I could always catch.” We used to have a saying that “if you get into baseball, and you’re good enough and you’re lucky enough, you get called up to the major leagues and you get your cup of coffee.”
Hal never made it to the majors. In fact, those dreams vanished when he was just 20 years old. It was in 1968, that Uncle Sam – drafted this at-home country boy – enlisting him in southeast Asia.
“I was in Vietnam from 1968-1969. After that, I pretty much became a hippie. I had a hard time dealing with everything.”
Some of his closest friends made the ultimate sacrifice during his year of service, and his homecoming wasn’t much easier. Hal recounts not having any respect when he returned back to the States.
His ghosts, haunted him for decades.
“You don’t know you have a problem, and I didn’t discover that until 5 or 10 years ago. Someone finally said to me that you may have PTSD.”
Hal could have ran back to his roots, but instead, pedaled in the opposite direction.
“To me, difficulties are just an adventure. They aren’t really difficulties, you just have to figure out how to overcome them.
He now competes in endurance racing, and was recently dethroned as the oldest man to ever complete the Tour Divide: A 27-hundred mile mountain bike race from Alberta Canada, down to the Mexico border.
“I discovered that with endurance type events, I can get out there and forget everything,” said Hal. Just this year, he completed the American Trail Race: Over 5,000 miles from sea to shining sea.
62 days, 18 hours, and 29 minutes.
“I started out by trying to get rid of my Vietnam ghosts, but I quickly realized that I was never going to completely do that. But I can try to figure out why I’m so lucky to be able to do these kinds of things.”
“Someone asked me if I carried a gun or a weapon on my trip across the country, and the answer is no — My weapon and my protection is my handshake and my smile. If we would all just do that, we would have this life figured out.”
Hopes, dreams, resiliency, and defeated ghosts, manifested in jars of clay.
Now 69, and on vacation visiting the finish line of the American Trail Race with his wife, Hal is happy to say that he “finally got my cup of coffee.”