Rachael Russell – NOCO’s 30 Under 30 (2023)

By: Staff



Q: What’s your occupation? Explain your career, your accomplishments and professional highlights.

A: Throughout my six-year career with the City of Fort Collins, I have navigated through five positions within two departments. I began as day-of event support for The Lincoln Center and now oversee all operations at Primrose Studio, an event venue in the natural areas department. For the past four years, I’ve been a supervisor leading various teams with an empathetic leadership style and emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability. Accomplishments include spearheading a program that highlights LGBTQ-inclusive vendors for wedding couples, implementing a gender-inclusive tour and inclusivity policy trainings for my team and ensuring my venues and events have a low ecological impact.

Q: Tell us about yourself, your history and how you came to be where you are now.

A: I was born with a life expectancy of 31 due to my diagnosis with cystic fibrosis, a degenerative lung disease. As a result, I grew up with strong self-discipline and a determination to make the most of life by saying “yes” to adventure. Whether taking an ice climbing trip to Ouray or moving to Fort Collins sight unseen, I have sought to experience all the world has to offer. Recent medical advancements have drastically improved my health, and my latest adventures lend themselves toward building a long and prosperous life: pursuing a meaningful career, enrolling in graduate school and getting married.

Age: 28 

Occupation: Senior facility operations coordinator at the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas


Q: Tell us something unique about you.

A: The way I harness my empathy makes me unique. It is my superpower in my community and workplace. I am a volunteer victim advocate for the police, which means I am responsible for providing trauma-informed services to victims of crimes in our community. I am also a vocal advocate for those living with cystic fibrosis and invisible illness (other chronic illnesses that may not be visible). In the workplace, my empathy guides me to see perspectives of others, bring underrepresented voices into important conversations and build trust with my teams.

Q: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment, either professionally or personally?

A: My biggest personal accomplishment was finishing the Steamboat Springs Lake Catamount Triathlon in 2021. Training six days a week for eight months required steadfast discipline and reframing my beliefs about my own limitations. Living with cystic fibrosis has made exercising difficult for me. I never felt like I belonged in the world of competitive sports, but with this event I feel that I earned my place. I’ve never been more excited to prove myself wrong.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10 years?

A: In five years, I will have an MBA from Colorado State University with a concentration in data analytics. That degree, combined with years of experience leading teams, will allow me to shift into a career in people analytics. My goal is to help businesses increase diversity, equity and belonging on teams to improve employee retention and happiness. In 10 years, I’d like to own an HR consulting firm focused on delivering data-driven inclusivity trainings.

Q: What piece(s) of advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Community is the most important thing in life. Start by surrounding yourself with nonjudgmental, loving, supportive people, and model that behavior yourself. Invest in community by making time and space for your people and asking the same of them. The result will be a strong network, a plethora of great opportunities and unwavering resilience to navigate through life’s trials. Also, find a partner who invests in and values community as much as you do.

Q: What does it feel like to have so many years ahead of you after being given a short life expectancy?

A: It’s been an adjustment. I’ve worked hard to reframe my mindset to pursue long-term dreams, like marriage, graduate school and opening a 401K. With that comes a lot of hope, excitement and uncertainty that I look forward to navigating. I’m so grateful for the potential of more years with my husband, friends and family, and I am excited to witness what the future holds for all of us.

Q: What have you learned from your adventures? (ice climbing, triathlons, etc.)

A: My adventures have created a lot of opportunities for me to doubt myself. I’ve pushed my limits into spaces I never imagined I’d be, and my first instinct is often to say, “I can’t do this.” Through these experiences I’ve learned how influential the stories and words we tell ourselves can be. When I feel the fear and uncertainty creeping in, I tell myself that I am strong and capable (even if I don’t believe it in the moment), and eventually it gives me the confidence to try. It feels silly at first, then it becomes the narrative that informs the next adventure.