Real Salt Lake at a Nothing But Nets/MLS WORKS event on the Washington Mall.
RSL Communications/

Russell uses D.C. trip to promote malaria awareness

WASHINGTON — Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds worldwide. Two decades before he clinched Real Salt Lake's MLS Cup championship, Robbie Russell nearly became one of those statistics.

Living in Ghana when he was seven, Russell was bit by a mosquito and contracted malaria.

"Malaria, it hits you all at once really hard, and you either make it or you don't," he said.

Russell says he still has nightmares based on the hallucinations he had during his fever stages of malaria. He remembers being incredibly sick for about two and half days before his fever started to break.

His first-hand experience with a virus that kills roughly one million people worldwide, (90 percent of those in Africa alone) is a big reason Russell is so willing to help raise awareness for the deadly sickness.

During RSL's recent visit to the nation's capital to be honored at the White House, Russell and eight other teammates took time out of their schedule to team up with the United Nation Foundation's "Nothing But Nets" campaign at the base of the Washington Monument on Thursday to raise awareness about malaria.

Representatives of Nothing But Nets, MLS W.O.R.K.S. — the league's community outreach initiative — and President Barrack Obama's United We Serve campaign were all on hand to educate roughly 50 D.C.-area children about malaria's deadly effects.

Before area youth soccer teams broke off into drills with various Real Salt Lake players, Danielle Garrahan of Nothing But Nets explained to the children how malaria kills nearly a million children just like themselves every year.

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RSL owner Dave Checketts, coach Jason Kreis and assistant coach Miles Joseph were also on hand at the Washington Monument for the soccer clinic.

"Credit to the team and the guys that they're willing to come out here," said Russell.

When Russell contracted malaria, he was lucky his family enjoyed good living conditions. He had clean water and proper medical attention. Hundreds of thousands like him don't.

"The thing that really hurts, it's children that suffer the most," said Russell. "It's not the adults; the adults have better immune systems, they can fight it off. It's the kids, they're little, they're not always in the best places, they're sleeping in very poor conditions and they get bit. A kid just cannot deal with it."

Created by the United Nations Foundation in 2006, Nothing But Nets raises money to provide insecticide-treated bed nets to those in need. A bed net can protect a family of four for three to five years and the cost is only $10 to produce, deliver and educate its recipient on the proper use.

Since its creation, Nothing But Nets has raised $30 million to send over three million nets to Africa.

"It's just a simple, easy way to save a life. It's really important it gets out there," said Russell, who along with teammate Jean Alexandre are the official Nothing But Nets spokespersons for RSL.

Other RSL players who participated Thursday by either helping the kids in some soccer drills or interacting with them while drawing pictures were Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Raushawn McKenzie, Collen Warner, Luis Gil and Nelson Gonzalez.

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