Ironman athlete raising money in honor of late friend and mentor Chason Russell

Roaring Fork Valley local Chason Russell died in a kayaking accident on the Crystal River earlier this summer

Chason Russell skis down a peak in Mongolia during a ski mountaineering expedition.
Jordan White/Courtesy photo

Update: Ironman California was canceled Sunday due to the weather. Donations can still be made through the GoFundMe page.

When Harrison Bernstein attempts to tackle his first Ironman on Sunday in California, his motivation will largely stem from thoughts of his late friend, Chason Russell. After all, Russell is largely the reason he’s competing in the triathlon at all and is the reason he’s raising funds for the Telluride Academy in his name.

“I was like a normal person who just biked a mile and he kind of took it to the extreme. That was the kind of person that he was,” Bernstein said during a phone interview last week. “I’m super excited to do it. He was always way faster than me on the bike. I feel like I’m not racing other people. I feel like I’m just going to be thinking about him trying to catch my ass.”

Russell, an outdoorsman and adventurer from Telluride who had more recently called the Roaring Fork Valley home, died in a kayaking accident on the Crystal River in June. The Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer and Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club coach was 41.

Bernstein’s only tie to the Aspen area was Russell, his friend of nearly a dozen years who served as a coach, mentor and adventure partner to the much younger kid from Miami. Bernstein, 24, left the Florida shores to attend Cornell and now calls Nashville home, where he works for AJ Capital Partners.

Harrison Bernstein rides with his brother, Sammy, and friend Chason Russell during a ride in Utah.
Courtesy photo

On Sunday, Bernstein will compete in Ironman California, held in Sacramento, where he’ll swim, bike and run the collective 140.6 miles in Russell’s name.

“I really used to bike a lot with him,” said Bernstein, who was about halfway through his Ironman training when Russell died. “I was always thinking about him when I was hopping on the bike. For me to actually formally recognize it and do it in honor of him, it definitely creates a different level of meaning for the race.”

Bernstein, who was a rower back in high school, has raced in a couple of half-Ironmans, but this will be his first full. He had intended to do his first in Brazil, but that trip was ultimately canceled because of the pandemic.

To help honor his friend, Bernstein has started a GoFundMe that is raising money for the Telluride Academy, where Russell spent around 15 years as both a student and instructor. According to its mission statement, the Telluride Academy seeks to “inspire children and teens through experiential education,” notably through outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.

“It was kind of a no-brainer. I can’t imagine any other organization that it would have worked with,” Bernstein said of choosing to partner with the Telluride Academy in honor of Russell. “He had a big impact on me and the rest of my family. It’s really cool that I’m getting to do this.”

To find the GoFundMe page, search for “Iron Man Dedicated to the Chase Dog.”