It was March, a time when most teenaged boys are starting to think about who they’ll be asking to the prom. But 16-year-old Russ Cherry had something else on his mind: his funeral.
Just eight months earlier, he’d been running two-a-day football practices. The six-foot tall high school junior was slated to be the starting tight end for his Roswell, NM team, and he had worked hard to earn it. But on that fateful day, he felt an odd lump on his collarbone.
It was the last time Russ ever put on football pads.
It was Hodgkins Disease, and the treatment would be intense. Needle aspirations, surgery to remove half of his liver, his spleen and 40 lymph nodes. “Sixteen year olds don’t get cancer,” he thought. Depressed and hopeless, he laid on the couch for a week until one day, his father came into the room. Short, but powerfully built, he gave his son a look he’d never forget, then yelled “Do something!” and turned and left the room.
And in that moment, everything changed.
He got a job delivering pizzas, learning that by sharing his tips with the cooks and order takers, he was actually able to make more money while making them happier. He found that he had the ability to talk to people and to find common ground with people from different walks of life. He saw that his sense of humor and unique perspective on life drew people to him and that they felt comfortable opening up to him.
Six months of radiation later, he was given a clean bill of health. But a spot on his lung had been missed and by the time it was found, he weighed just 93 pounds, had double pneumonia, and stage 4D cancer in his right lung.
He had to fight harder than ever before.
During the next 8 months, Russ underwent session after session of chemotherapy. One chemical after another went into his body to kill the cancer. At times, the pain was nearly unbearable. But as the cancer began to shrink, his spirit grew as he learned about who he was and what was important.
Against all odds, Russ won his second battle with cancer. He graduated high school, spent two years volunteering in Arkansas and Tennessee, then attended Montana State University, where he graduated with honors in speech communication. After graduation, Russ joined McGraw-Hill as a textbook sales representative. There, he honed his skills in interpreting non-verbal messages, to ask the right questions, to draw information from professors and to develop relationships of trust that bridged the gaps between himself as a recent college graduate, and the professors who knew worlds more than he about the subjects in the books that he was selling.
Those same skills later helped him create a successful career in the mortgage lending industry, and again in the restaurant business. He consistently became a top producer because of his abilities to reach out to people and engage them in the process. As with any career-oriented individual, Russ experienced ups and downs, but he learned that when he dedicated himself to a goal or a course of action, opportunities came his way that would allow him to excel, lead and succeed.
During the course of his career, Russ kept two goals in mind: he wanted to follow his entrepreneurial spirit, and he wanted to have the opportunity to use his skills and abilities to transform businesses by getting their people moving in the right direction. When he moved to Billings, Montana, he took the leap, opening a company that reflected his mantra: Dream Big. He created a program that wasn’t about training or motivation—it was about inspiring people to engage in their lives, to focus on the now and to get passionate about who they are and what they do.
Russ has been a trainer for some of the largest companies in the world, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Wells Fargo. He’s now working to spread his message around the globe.
A two-time cancer survivor, Russ knows that every day is a good day, that without risk there are no rewards, and that people and companies can do more than merely survive—they can thrive. He knows that failure can be as much of a learning experience as success, and that asking the right question is more important than already knowing the answer. And he knows that he can help those in business—from the man on the factory floor to the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company–to rediscover their own paths and unlock the doors to unqualified success.
He knows it, because he does it every day.