The Stranger Project 2014: Russell Teibert

Teibert: "Whatever you want to do, it can happen here"

Teibert with armband

Photo Credit: 
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Editor's note: Earlier this month, Russell Teibert was featured as part of The Stranger Project 2014 – an initative where creator Colin Easton meets a stranger every day to find out who they are and discover more about their story. Read about Easton's interaction with Teibert below. 

July 20, 2014 – Today was one of those days that I recognize if I wasn’t so passionate about this project, I might have skipped the day. Maybe it was the rain and clouds, although I enjoy rain. I was happy to have a lazy day off, and bond with my couch. Alas, if I don’t get groceries, I don’t eat.

The first two people I approached, both named Dave, were willing to chat, but not comfortable having a picture taken. I got my groceries, went home and had a nap. Always satisfying.

Somewhat refreshed, I headed back out to find today’s story. And buy cookies. Cookies punctuate a good nap with a deeper satisfaction. I spotted Russell at a deli, eating and looking at his phone. I walked right past him and then decided to go back.

I told him what I was doing and asked if he would chat with me.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” he said.

I thanked him and said goodbye. As I turned and walked away, he called me back.

“You know what, I’ll talk with you.”

I told him I understood that if he wasn’t comfortable, he didn’t have to chat with me.

“No, it’s okay, I have a few minutes,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Colin Easton, The Stranger Project 2014

I showed him the Facebook page and we had a conversation about the project and why I was doing this. He thought it was a good idea.

Russell was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario. When he said “Niagara Falls” it was with an air almost of authority.

“I’m extremely proud of where I’m from. Niagara Falls is an amazing place and my family are all still there. I have one sister and we're very close. There’s only one year between us, and we’ve always gotten along well,” he said.

Russell went to elementary school there. He also completed half of his high school grades in Niagara before coming to British Columbia.

“I came to BC when I was 15. I lived in Burnaby and finished high school here,” he said as he continued eating.

I asked why he made the move to BC.

“I was playing soccer, and I came here for that.”

It was then that I realized who he was. I even remembered the first initial of his last name. Russell plays for Vancouver Whitecaps FC. I had a brief flash of ‘should we continue the chat’ but as fast as the thought crossed my mind, it left.

To compensate for my lack of soccer knowledge, I shared a story about the time my uncle and cousins took me to a ‘football’ match in Scotland. I was 10 years old and no one had told me the teams switched sides at half time. I ended up cheering for the ‘wrong’ team.

Russell understood the potential gravity of the situation I described. He asked me to tell him about my story. I laughed and said that this was about him, and that if we had time at the end I’d talk about me. He wasn’t having it. I gave him the high level, Cole’s notes version and quickly turned it back to Russell.

At the tender age of four, Russell started to play soccer.

“I’m Italian and German, so soccer is a big part of my family’s life. I did okay in school. I liked math a lot, but not so much that if I wasn’t playing soccer I would have become a mathematician. It’s hard when you’re traveling for 42 days out of an 80-day semester. I ended up missing a lot of school. But I did what I needed to do to graduate high school. Soccer was important but so was doing well in school,” he said.

Russell had been playing soccer in provincial championships when he was spotted by a Whitecaps FC scout.

“It’s kind of complicated to explain, but in the provincials there are scouts there from all over. A rep from the Whitecaps approached me and that’s how I came to BC. You get billeted by a host family and I went to school in Burnaby and worked hard at training as well,” he said.

I asked Russell about leaving his family to come to BC.

“My father played soccer when he was younger, but he never left Niagara to play. He’s in really good shape and I’ve seen him play, and he’s skilled. I think that because of that, my parents have been very supportive in me leaving to pursue my career. For some there can be an added pressure to perform well for the parents. I don’t feel pressure to play well for my father. I play for me and my family are proud of what I do for myself. Of course I want my parents to be proud of what I do and what I accomplish, but there’s no pressure to play for them,” he said with confidence.

Before turning 18, Russell went on to play for the Whitecaps FC senior team. I wanted to know how it felt to have reached that level in his career so quickly.

“I don’t think I fully appreciated where I was at. It wasn't until it was taken away about a year later because of an injury, that I actually recognized exactly what I’m doing. I’m very fortunate. I get paid to do what I love doing, every single day,” he said. 

Russell had finished eating, and gathered his belongings, and his lunch plate.

“Well, I have to get going,” he said.

He took care of his plate and garbage and I walked him to his car, in order to grab a photograph. I asked him if he thought about what his future would be – playing soccer for as long as he could or playing for a certain number of years and then going into something else.

“I love this city, I really do. Vancouver is a tremendous place where anything is possible. Whatever you want to do, it can happen here.”

Russell is 21. He’s got a lot of soccer matches ahead of him. #notastranger