Skiing in the Family Way
By John Meyer
The Denver Post
Gunnison - Rebecca Dussault believes motherhood is her vocation but skiing in the Olympics is her calling, so she has found a novel way to pursue both: Wherever skiing takes her, her 3-year-old son and husband come along.
Whether it's a training camp in New Zealand, the domestic SuperTour or the World Cup circuit in Europe, the Olympic hopeful from Gunnison turns each journey into a family adventure with Tabor, her son, and Sharbel, the childhood sweetheart she married in 1999.
America's top female cross country skier the past two seasons, Dussault is believed to be the only woman in any World Cup discipline who traveled with a child last season.
"It's a joy for us," Dussault says. "We see so many couples for whom life after children is completely different from what it was before, or what they want it to be in the future. We just keep going and it just keeps getting better.
"It's enhanced by having Tabor and his little innocent personality coming along and adapting. He just teaches us so much about adaptation throughout life. It is a joy, despite the many hardships and motivational waves we ride."
Once a promising junior, Dussault left the sport at age 19 with a case of burnout, got married and started a family. But after a three-year hiatus she felt a "calling" and returned to competition in 2004, dominating the domestic racing scene and winning three national titles. Last season she won three more national titles and spent seven weeks in Europe, competing on the World Cup and representing the U.S. in the world championships.
Making the team for the Turin Olympics next winter is a family project.
"We just jumped into it," Dussault says. "We didn't know all the details or the outcome, but we would just commit to this and, for the sake of our family unity, stay together and make it work, no matter what."
Sharbel (his father's ancestors were French Canadians) has no complaints.
"It's great," Sharbel says. "I get to spend a lot of time with Tabor, which is wonderful. Tabor loves meeting people. I love meeting people and seeing the world. I don't think we'd do it any other way."
Dussault showed unusual maternal instincts at a young age. Her mother was a single parent for six years, working two part-time jobs, living on six hours' sleep, taking classes at Western State. Rebecca had an older sister and a younger brother.
"She helped me get through those years," said Rebecca's mother, Carol. "She just added stability. If I asked her to do something, she did it. If there was any argument to be settled, she could settle it. She was Junior Mom."
Rebecca and Sharbel met through their church and became friends when they were 11. They were home-schooled together and say they would have gotten married at age 15 if allowed.
"We always said, 'The day after I turn 18 and can sign for myself, we're getting married,"' says Rebecca, whose maiden name was Quinn. "Well, we waited another year, until I was 19."
Earlier that year, after an agonizing internal struggle, Dussault realized she was skiing for the wrong reasons, that her motives had become "corrupt." She felt she had been competing for others, rather than the joy of skiing. She didn't have her priorities straight and felt trapped, so she quit, seemingly on the cusp of making the U.S. Ski Team's top group.
"I felt like the Lord wanted me to give everything to him, "Dussault says. "I had no idea he was going to give it back to me. It's been a hundredfold. It's been so much better than I ever
thought it could be. Before I quit, I had to train, I had to do this and I had to do that. Now I get to, and it's a totally different way of going about the whole picture.
"To be able to do it as a family, it's not just my selfish ambition but our pursuit."
American cross country skiers endure one of the most grueling sports in the Winter Olympics for scant success, notice or financial reward.
Assuming she makes the Olympic team, a realistic goal for Dussault in Turin would be a top-20 finish. A top-15 would be "extremely exciting."
Dussault senses she will retire again after Turin. She wants to have one or two more children before even thinking about the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
"But I have learned from my past experiences that I'm not the designer of this life," Dussault says. "I abandoned that to the Lord, and he can give it back to me in a few years if he wants. I do know I have chosen motherhood as my vocation, and I'm just dying to keep having more children."
Staff writer John Meyer can be reached at 303-820-1616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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