Olympic skier attracts media attention for devotion to faith, family
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
TURIN, Italy (CNS) -- With a holy man on her skis and her husband and 4-year-old son close behind, a cross-country skiing Olympian from Gunnison, Colo., has taken Turin by storm.
In the first week of her Olympic debut at the games, Rebecca Dussault's manager, promoter, fundraiser, photographer and webmaster husband, Sharbel Dussault, was busy working the phones and hunting for Internet access in the remote Italian mountain village of Pragelato.
Their site, www.dussaultskis.com, was clocking 1,200 hits a day, Dussault said, and her husband had been staying up until 2 a.m. to go through the flood of e-mails, respond to requests for interviews and update the site launched early this year to document the family's pursuit of the Olympic dream.
In just the first few days after the Olympics began, Dussault had done interviews for big-name Italian and U.S. radio and newspaper outlets, including National Public Radio, The Washington Post and Turin's major daily, La Stampa.
"Even USA Today did a piece on Sharbel," she told Catholic News Service Feb. 15.
Not bad considering the media buzz usually circles around athletes who have been awarded a medal, not someone who took 48th place in Feb. 12's cross-country 15-kilometer pursuit. Even though 48th place still made Dussault the top U.S. finisher in an event dominated by Europeans, that was not the reason the mass media was hungry for her story.
"I think it's because of my faith," she said.
A devout Catholic and member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Gunnison, Colo., Dussault said a lot of media hype was focused on her having the name of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati on all the skis she was using during her two weeks of competition.
When she and her husband decided back in 2003 that she would end what had been an early retirement from elite racing to pursue the Olympics, they decided to make Blessed Pier Giorgio, a Turin-born mountaineer and avid skier, the patron of Dussault's journey to the Olympics. She said her dedication to Blessed Pier Giorgio and her Catholic faith made her stand out from other competitors and gave reporters a hook for stories.
She said her story sparked interest because it was more than just about the Olympics; it was "how Blessed Pier Giorgio is helping me and I'm helping him" by spreading his name and stirring up interest in his life.
She said she believes God "is using me to get Frassati out there" to the wider public and that it was amazing how her story "is being eaten up."
But people have also been fascinated with how this humble but hard-as-nails 25-year-old has juggled Olympic training with being a wife, mother and Catholic who never misses Sunday Mass, even when stranded in remote mountain villages. Once, she said, she even paid an $88 taxi fare just to get to the nearest church before a race in Norway.
"I'm paying witness to how life doesn't end after marriage and childbirth," she said. "You don't have to give up everything" in order to follow your dreams, but you do have to be stubborn.
Dussault tells donors and sponsors that when it comes to financing the expenses involved in traveling the cross-country skiing circuit throughout the year, she is a package deal: Wherever she goes, her husband and child must go, too.
Even though that triples their expenses, it's a price this family pays without question or hesitation.
Her son needs her when he wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night, she said, adding that it is neat to have her family share in this dream. For the past three years "we worked together for this one goal," she said.
Dussault said her son and husband are also an enormous source of support and encouragement.
"It's such a joy to see their smiling faces at the end of a race," she said.
The three were renting a house in Pragelato, not far from the competition venue, while the rest of the U.S. cross-country squad was housed in the Olympic village in Sestriere.
She was racing a team relay Feb. 18, qualifications for the sprint Feb. 22 and the 30-kilometer race Feb. 24.
She also was going to Turin to be the featured speaker at a Feb. 19 event sponsored by a diocesan Blessed Pier Giorgio organization.
Dussault said her first Olympics have been "fun and very exciting," but also stressful and challenging to have to wade through all the red tape to get the proper accreditation that would keep her family by her side throughout the games.
Going head-to-head against the world's best cross-country skiers also has had an impact on her No. 1 fan -- her son Tabor.
Dussault said that after all her races her son always asks her, "Did you win?" In the United States, she almost always won and he'd reply, smiling, "Good job, Mommy."
"But here (at the Olympics) when he asks 'Did you win' and I say 'No, I got 48th,' he still sees that I am still the same person" and that defeat has not shattered her world.
She said this attitude makes her a valuable role model for her son, to see that no matter what, "I still have faith, love and I still try."
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