It was 2006 and Rebecca Dussault was living in one of the villages at the winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Every day, she and her team—her husband and son—headed off to daily Mass. She was almost always the only athlete in attendance, but Rebecca was accustomed to deviating from the norm.
As Catholic athletes, we have to “be uniquely and firstly Catholic,” she told The Cardinal Newman Society in an interview on February 18. The culture wants us to “bow to sport as a god” but we need to “reclaim” the game for Christ.
Never missing Sunday Mass was one of the many ways that Rebecca lived out her Catholic faith as an elite athlete, in an environment that she describes as “missionary” territory. She found that she needed to compete to the best of her ability to be a Catholic athlete, but she still needed to live a life of “balance.”
As a teenager traveling with a team of skiers, Rebecca often had to compete on Sundays. So she would tell her coach that she was going to attend the Saturday night vigil Mass. As she went off to Mass alone, her team would sit down to a delicious, hot cooked meal to prepare for the final round of competition the next day. But, Rebecca knew that she was getting the “real team dinner.” When Rebecca returned after Mass, she would eat food that she had bought earlier at the grocery store in her room.
And then there were the even more challenging times, like when Rebecca had to spend eighty-eight dollars on a cab ride to fulfill her Sunday obligation. Was it worth it? Rebecca would say an overwhelming yes.
Growing up in Colorado, Rebecca was homeschooled by a family friend. She started cross country ski racing at the age of 15 and won seven junior national cross country ski champion titles. When she completed high school, she decided not to attend college and turned down many full-ride scholarships to skiing schools. Instead, she married her high school sweetheart Sharbel Dussault at the age of 19.
Rebecca continued competing in her sport for another year. Then, after Sharbel’s father passed away, Rebecca discontinued competing so that her family could help her mother-in-law raise her five children who were still at home.
Fast forward three years to after the birth of Rebecca and Sharbel’s first child—the family urged Rebecca to give competing another shot. Rebecca, with her husband and son, traveled the world winning titles in skiing and other sports. In 2006, she competed in the winter Olympics.
In 2010, she came in sixth place in the Olympic trials and just missed the cut, with only five skiers taken to the Games. The disappointment didn’t stop Rebecca—she instead went on to compete and win the Winter Triathlon World Championship in 2010.
Continuing to compete today, Rebecca thinks of being a wife and mother as her “upper-case ‘V’ vocation” and skiing as her “lower case ‘v’ vocation.” She and her husband believe that formation of the whole person is so important— mental, physical and spiritual health—and that homeschooling is best for their family.
Rebecca started homeschooling to gain an “authentic, Catholic” environment and continues striving to “grow a Catholic culture within herself and in her family.” She says that her time spent homeschooling “wasn’t so much about education as it was a formation.”
Homeschooling offered Rebecca a “beautiful flexibility to pursue other things that [she] was passionate about—and that was athletics.” She now can tailor her children’s education to their interests, which include sports.
It’s definitely a balancing act for the Dussault family—with four children of their own and four small family businesses. But Rebecca believes that “education should fit in the rhythm of life” and the “fact that we share three meals a day together is a piece of education,” she said.
Other families are benefiting from the Dussault’s idea of “real family time.” For the past seven years, the Dussaults have put on a “Family Camping Retreat” for families to spend “four days and three nights camping, exploring the wilderness, hiking, praying, sharing our Catholic Faith and enjoying healthy family meals,” according to the School of the Family blog.
Rebecca puts emphasis on “experiential learning” and wants her children to “see [the world] for themselves.” Last year, the Dussaults spent many months in an RV traveling across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast and Eastern Canada. “Native American martyrs make so much more sense to [the children] now,” she related as an example of one of the lessons incorporated along the way.
When other parents say that they are intimidated by homeschooling because of the academic requirements that need to be met, Rebecca believes that they’re “missing the bigger picture.”
If you see every day as a “challenge to raise the young Church and make saints out of [your] children, then you bring purpose to every little lesson in their books, every little ‘help me fix lunch,’” she said. “Everything takes on a greater purpose.”
“It’s the stories that stand out from the Olympic Games, not the results. It’s who sacrificed what to get there and what means did they take,” Rebecca said when asked about the winter Olympics currently taking place in Sochi, Russia.
She has been inspired by the stories of many of the athletes, such as Lanny and Tracy Barnes, twin sister biathletes. When Lanny fell ill during the Olympic trials and missed the cut, Tracy offered up her own spot in the Olympics—which she knew would be passed to Lanny.
Tracy’s decision was “so selfless, so heroic, so Christ-like. When you do something for others and not just for yourself, that’s when you’re truly living, not just existing,” she said. “It’s interesting that none of us will remember how Lanny did at the Olympics—we’ll remember Tracy for not going.”
“It’s beautiful that sport unites us in peaceful brotherhood,” she said about the Olympics. “But I also feel for the Catholic athletes who are trying to swim upstream.”
Thankfully, we have role models like Rebecca who prove that the stream can be conquered.
To read more of Rebecca’s story, check out her just-released book, Mass Start: Toeing the Line for Faith, Family and Fitness with U.S. Olympian Rebecca Dussault.
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