It started with two tickets to a volleyball game 19 years ago. Two decades later, they haven’t missed a single game.
Stephanie Russell traded in barbie dolls for basketball and baby dolls for volleyballs a long time ago.
“Love, love state,” said Russell.
A love for State so big, everything in her room is sparty-filled.
“It’s kind of like a museum, you don’t always want to see the same thing, so she moves them around,” said Dave Russell, Stephanie’s dad.
For the Russell’s, it wasn’t always easy having a child with Down Syndrome.
“He was very upset,” Terri Russell, Stephanie’s mom, said. “He kept focusing on things that he’s going to miss, like walking her down the aisle when she gets married.”
“We both went through a depression,” said Terri.
“I had a lot of doubt and hidden anger,” said Dave. “My wife pointed out I should learn all the things that I’m missing because of her, not the things I’m missing on the opposite end.”
So that’s how it all started, a bond between daddy and daughter.
“It became a daddy-daughter thing. For years people thought he was a single dad because it was a daddy daughter thing,” said Terri.
Leaving mom at home, dad and Steph haven’t missed a night out to the gym in almost two decades. It’s truly a place where Steph can just be Steph.
And for the past nine years, win or lose, volley ball coach, Cathy George, has not gone a game without a hug.
“Steph always sits behind the bench and she’s always coming out and giving me hugs,” said George.
In fact, knowing Steph is like getting a hug when you need one.
“We’ve come to realize she truly is a gift from God,” said Terri.