Go ahead. Try to rattle Kathi Russ. Try to bring her down.
It won’t work. Not after her younger brother was hit by a car and died. Not after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And now this: Russ opened a travel agency last January, only to see it face an enormous challenge when weeks later the coronavirus had made its presence felt.
“I knew it would take time to build the business,” Russ said recently. “Now I use this time to become an expert and certified, and when they start to travel, I will be there to help them.”
She knows it sounds crazy. A travel agent? In this day and age? Really? Add the fact that the virus has scared the bejesus out of travelers, and Russ’s challenge of attracting potential clients, in person or by phone, looks rough, indeed.
“I have rose-colored glasses taped to my face,” Russ said. “The reality is I will come out of this stronger and I will have a groundswell of people who want information and want a professional.
“Even though this is kind of hilarious, people will need a travel adviser more than ever.”
She says her business, Epic Travel, is different from that old-fashioned method of driving to a travel agency, or, today, going online.
You and Russ join hands, become a team, because Russ’s role means you have an ally, a person who sells flight insurance, will go to bat for you if you get sick and have to cancel. Or if your luggage is missing.
“It all will be evolving because this is an unprecedented time,” Russ said. “Travel was impacted extraordinarily.”
Russ has had an impact no matter what she’s done. She was in sales for Automatic Data Processing for 20 years before retiring from there.
Then things got colorful.
Russ took a job with the Harlem Wizards, a traveling team of trick-shot basketball players who played in college and are currently part of a different sort of sports entertainment.
Russ led the fast break by working tirelessly for the Wizards, and that meant she was the pulse of every behind-the-scenes project.
She was good at her job, too, which was to scream from the rooftops with joy and enthusiasm, making sure everyone within shouting distance knew that the Wizards were fun, had good players and raised money for the schools that invited them.
Russ’s fingerprints were everywhere on those games, promoting everything and anything to get the team into the spotlight.
They played their games at high schools around the Granite State, battling school staff members in an event conducive to letting your hair down.
Said Russ, “It was a way to get the teachers involved. The kids thought it was a riot.”
Next, she volunteered to work for the Concord chapter of the American Cancer Society and did that for 20 years. She was the face of the annual Making Strides Against Cancer event at Memorial Field.
Were you surprised a few years back to learn that Concord had raised more money for cancer research, per capita, than any other city in the country?
“Making Strides Against Cancer,” Russ said, “was my passion.”
Russ’s fight against her own breast cancer, a powerful irony, ran from 2014 to 2019. She had surgery. She had radiation treatments. She stayed happy, though. She beat it.
“I had perspective on cancer and I had worked with volunteers,” Russ said. “Those people faced cancer and they showed me how to be gracious when fighting it.”
Her spirit and courage were tested later when her brother, Rick Murphy, was killed by a car while crossing the street in Nashua last year. That’s when Russ said something moved her, touched her, after she learned of his death while on a river cruise in Germany.
“It was one of those moments,” Russ said. “I asked, ‘Am I doing the right thing with my life? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?’ It made me question everything. I didn’t know it was a travel business until that moment.”
Now, another irony that can’t be ignored. Another test of her resiliency.
Russ runs the business from her home in Concord. She’s part of 2,500 franchises nationwide, and that has meant extra resources for her business.
Her expertise is making sure you have absolutely nothing to worry about, on or before your trip.
“People will need a travel adviser more than ever,” Russ noted. “We all need experiences and adventures in our lives.”