They say that it's best to get any skeletons out of the closet early in a political race. In the spirit of transparency, the following is my in-depth history. On the surface, I can humbly say that I have a beautiful family. My wife Juliana Benedini is the best veterinarian around. We have two daughters that eat lots and sleep little. My son August just entered his teen years as a pole vaulter and french horn player in middle school. We also have two dogs and two cats. Life is good. If you'd like the full version of my story, read on...
My Miami history started in the 1940s when my father Jack Russell returned from World War II. He flew the P-51 Mustang as an instructor pilot and later attended the University of Miami on the G.I. Bill. He settled in Miami, helped develop Mashta Island and was one of the first Commodores of the Key Biscayne Yacht Club in the 50s. He was famous, however, for having developed the patent for the modern toy Yo-Yo and becoming the United States Yo-Yo Champion. He traveled the world and met my mother who was the best yo-yo player from Japan, a Master of Ikebana flower arranging, and the top table tennis player in Tokyo. My brother and I were born in Coral Gables and went to school in Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne.
In high school, I joined the symphonic band where I received superior ratings for playing the saxophone and conducting. I received a small scholarship for playing piano, was VP of my class, President of the Spanish Club, and District President of the Future Business Leaders of America. I won first place in the State Entrepreneurship competition. I was a horrible hurdler, but went to the National Jr. Olympics in the pole vault and still hold the school record after 24 years. During my summers, and following in my father's footsteps, I traveled the world as a professional yo-yo player and learned several languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and a little French.
I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I continued pole vaulting until I was injured. I joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity where I served as the Chaplain and was awarded Brother of the Year. I spent one year of university in Japan where I was the first foreign student in history to obtain a Black Belt in the Kwansei Gakuin Karate Club. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from UNC with a focus on International Marketing and a minor in Japanese.
After university, my brother and I took over the family business, and our father retired. If you can believe it, we sold half a billion yo-yos in 90 countries as a promotional marketing tool for Coca-Cola. I managed a team of 150 field employees and 10 office staff. I was responsible for international sales while my brother handled logistics and manufacturing.
I married and moved to France for a year where I managed the European clients for the company. Once my son August was born, I left the family business. We came back to the States and moved to Coconut Grove, less than two miles from Doctors Hospital where I was born. My marriage did not last, but we share equal custody of our son. I had enough savings to take some time off from work and concentrate on raising August, even becoming the president of the PTA at his school.
In my spare time, I gained a passion for the waters around Miami and became an avid kiteboarder during the early years of the sport. I joined a local kiteboarding school, taught lessons, trained instructors, and helped run a small internet retail business related to the sport. I entered several long distance kite races including a 40-mile race from Jupiter to Ft. Lauderdale, and more painfully, a 50-mile kite board crossing from Florida to the Bahamas. Within site of Bimini, I encountered a vicious Portuguese Man-o-War which sent me out of the race and into the hospital.
Adding to the injury, and around that time, I lost most of my savings in the 2008 economic downturn and had to start over. I co-founded a wholesale distribution company focusing on water sports gear. We recognized the fast growing sport of Standup Paddleboarding and have since sold nearly $5 million in boards to more than 100 shops throughout the US, the Caribbean, and Brazil.
I decided to use the standup paddleboard as a way to raise money for Charities such as Camillus House and various local schools. I have organized and co-founded dozens of races, some of which have grown to international acclaim. The largest is the Orange Bowl Paddle Championship that has raised over $100,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami and is now run every year by the Orange Bowl Committee.
I am also a wood sculptor and furniture maker, specializing in local hardwood trees that fall during hurricanes or die of natural causes. Some of my pieces have won competitions and been auctioned for charity.
I met my wife, Juliana, a veterinarian who was raised in Miami and is the daughter of a Brazilian concert pianist and former Brazilian Ambassador to Costa Rica and the US. She and I have two beautiful daughters who are 10 months old and 2 years old.
So now you know probably more than you should about my history. I'm open to sharing the good and the bad and the weird. My hope is that you'll see a well-rounded person with many experiences that will help him make good decisions-- a person who has always tried to do well for himself and those around him.
With the support of family and friends, I am ready to make a commitment to the next page in my life. I want to do good things-- big things for my community. I know that with my experience, I can bring a fresh perspective to Miami politics and will definitely enjoy doing it.
You can help me make that change. Take a few minutes to register right now and request an Absentee Ballot for this November's election. Don't wait until then. Just click "I LOVE MIAMI" below to learn more and request your absentee ballot.