Thursday, 11 July 2013

An Interview with Tonya Russo Hamilton and Tony Russo, Creators of 'Wrestling With The Devil'


Tonya Hamilton-Russo and her father, legendary wrestler and coach Tony Russo have very kindly popped in to Curiosity of a Social Misfit to not only talk to Patrick Challis about the book itself but to also talk about Tony Russo's career.

PC:  How did the book 'Wrestling With the Devil' come about Tonya?

TRH:  I grew up listening to stories from my father.  Both about his journey from southern Italy to the U.S. and also of his experiences in the sport of wrestling.  The book was an idea for many years before it hit the page.  One day I just began interviewing my father and writing his answers down in his voice, this eventually evolved into what is now, Wrestling with the Devil.

PC:  You spent three years interviewing your father to help create this book.  What was the favourite story you heard? 

TRH:  There are so many that I love, but I especially love the part of my father convincing his family to move from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.  I still cannot believe that as a fifteen year old he was able to accomplish this.  I also love the story that ensues after he convinces them, when they take a train across the country.

PC:  Did you need to do a lot of research before writing?

TRH:  I did study at a lot of pictures that my dad has of his home in Italy and his wrestling tournaments.  While writing I did a lot of confirming dates, and names to make sure that we were as accurate as we could be with the information.


PC:  While writing 'Wrestling With the Devil' did you have any quirks or traditions before sitting down to work?

TRH:  Oh, yes!  A cup of coffee before sitting down to write was definitely required for me to get anything accomplished.  I also had to stop everything and write if something popped into my brain, and that happened incessantly during the process day and night!

PC:  As a wrestler, Tony Russo is well known but how did his persona in the ring differ from his real life personality?

TRH:  Over the years I would get comments from people who didn’t know my father personally like, “Tony Russo is your dad?”  “Isn’t he mean?”

When it first happened I was in middle school and I had no idea that he had this fiery persona outside of our home.  He is a very kind-hearted individual who enjoys life.  He inspired his own children to work hard and strive to do their best at everything they might pursue.  Every year he has an amazing garden that is truly a work of art and all of his grandchildren work in the garden with him over the summers.  Those he has coached and those who are his friends know this about him.

Antonio Russo During His Wrestling Career

PC:  Talking of the wrestling side of your life, what are you most proud of during your career Mr Russo?

TR:  I am proud of working hard to build wrestling programs to the highest standards of competition.  It was very important to me to develop young athletes and help them achieve goals that they might not otherwise reach. 

Wrestling is an individual sport, but also a team sport.  It was very important to me to keep improving the sport in terms of the whole team.  Dual meet tournaments were excellent for this because when you win a dual meet tournament it means that every wrestler had to contribute to the win.  These were the most satisfying wins.  A wrestler may not end up being a state champion, but they can make major contributions to their teams during these tournaments.

PC:  Is there a match that you would say best shows your style and skill as a wrestler Mr Russo?

TR:  There was a match when I wrestled in the finals at the Western Athletic Conference.  I won this match because of the prior planning I had done with my coach.  We planned out a strategy together and then I went over it numerous times in my head before the match.  The match turned out almost exactly as my coach and I had planned it.

PC:  Mr Russo is there a wrestler past or present that you wish you could have had a match against?

TR:  I would have enjoyed wrestling against Dan Gable just because he is the best of the best.  Regardless of the outcome I would have loved to have that opportunity.

PC:  What have your families opinions been about the book?

TRH:  My family was mostly amazed that the book was published.  They love it and were very supportive.  When I would get discouraged at times during the writing process, my sister had only one thing to say to me, “Just keep writing!” 

Antonio Russo Coaching

PC:  'Wrestling With the Devil' is a fantastic look not only at your career Mr Russo but at your life and your battles as well.  What was it like working with your daughter Tonya?

TR:  It was satisfying, rewarding and a lot of fun telling and retelling the stories to Tonya.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure if she believed all of the escapades I had as a child!

PC:  After reading 'Wrestling With the Devil', it struck me more as a positive book about overcoming the hurdles and demons that life throws at you.  How would you describe it to someone who hasn't read it yet?

TRH:  Yes!  This is so true about the book.  There were so many times that any one of the hurdles thrown into my dad’s path could have taken him in a different direction. 

I would say that yes, this story is one of crossing cultures and yes, it is one that involves the sport of wrestling but it is mostly an inspirational salt-of-the earth story about a young person who overcomes the odds to make something of himself.  But not only that he takes it to another level and inspires all of those around him.

PC:  What has been your favorite moment during the writing of the book Tonya?

TRH:  There were so many!  I would say that one of my favorites was when we toured all of the childhood places my father frequented in Portland, like Loprinzi’s Gym and his first home.  I have also been remarkably lucky and blessed to have met so many lovely and kind people since the beginning of this book.

PC:  Mr Russo, what is your favorite memory of the time you have spent working with Tonya on this book?

TR:  I really enjoyed telling her the stories of my life in a more in-depth fashion.  I feel it gave her a better insight into the sacrifices our family has made and inspired her as she was writing.

The stories I particularly enjoyed telling her were the one of the bird that I accidently killed when I was a child, and how it ended up in our sauce for dinner and the slaughtering of the pig.  These were hair raising experiences for me as a child and Tonya couldn’t believe it!

Antonio Russo and Tonya Hamilton At A Book Signing
PC:  What's next for Tonya Hamilton?

TRH:  I am also a primary grade teacher and I am inspired to share some of the stories from my father’s early life in Italy.  I am working on one that is about growing and harvesting tomatoes.

'Wrestling With The Devil' is available to buy now from all good book shops.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful interview and for your support of Wrestling with the Devil!
    Tonya Russo Hamilton

    ReplyDelete