Nordic ski racer Rebecca Dussault
From the Winter 2018 Issue
Sandpoint’s newest Olympian, Nordic ski racer Rebecca Dussault, is busy.
She runs retreats at a dude ranch in Wyoming, trains local kids in the Sandpoint Nordic Club youth league summer and winter programs, runs two businesses, and is looking for a small farm to settle down on and call home. Additionally, she’s raising and home-schooling five kids. Dussault is always on the move.
A member of the 2006 Olympic U.S. Nordic Ski Team in Torino, Italy, Dussault has compiled quite an athletic resumé. She holds 15 national cross-country skiing titles. She won North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, the 52k American Birkebeiner, twice. She is also the first non-European to win the Winter Triathlon World Championship, a snow sport that combines running, biking and skiing. Besides winter sports, Dussault also competes in road racing and mountain biking, trail running and adventure racing. She is rightly called the “multi-sport momma.”
Dussault, a fourth-generation Coloradan, and her family— husband Sharbel, who runs Global Shelters, a portable structure business, and five children (four boys, one girl)—moved here from Gunnison, Colorado just in time for 2017’s heavy snow. They look forward to raising their family in Sandpoint.
Q. With all your training and traveling, how did you end up in Sandpoint?
A. My husband and I have been looking for a place for a long time with four season amenities. We wanted to be able to farm fertile land and yet ski. We have crisscrossed the country looking for such a place. My husband jokes that we have drawn a cross on the country. [As Catholics], that was symbolic to us. This town is similar to Gunnison in a lot of ways. It’s a few thousand more people. It’s a safe town. It’s a biking town. It has a quaint, healthy downtown with full storefronts that hasn’t been taken over by box stores. We love what this place offers, especially as a family of athletes. We are looking for a farm where we can live as self-sustainably as possible. We’re still trying to find a property that speaks to us.
Q. What is your skiing background?
A. My father was a ski patroller, a daredevil, and a very skilled skier. He wanted to give that gift to us from a young age. I started alpine skiing around age 4. My parents split when I was 9 and my mom was putting us in sports whenever she could, as she was working two jobs and putting herself through college to keep us afloat. She had us in every sport. On a typical summer day I went to swim team, then softball, jumped on the trampoline and then it was off to competitive gymnastics, more trampoline, and back to swim. I always competed, which I loved, giving me balance, coordination and strength. It was such a great base. Also, there was mentorship through the coaches and good positive role models, which I really needed at that time in life. I just threw myself headlong into sports as an answer to issues at home with my parents divorcing.
My mom stumbled across a cross-country ski program. She sewed the suits, drove the van, did the coaching and waxed the skis the whole winter, all for $60. At that price, we definitely skied in that program!
Q. You represented our country in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Do you have any special memories?
A. There is nothing as special as the Olympics. At the opening ceremonies my mother, husband and son had tickets to sit somewhere as faces in the crowd in that great stadium boasting tens of thousands of seats. As the USA team came through the tunnel to enter the stadium amid loud roaring shouts and claps, my family peeked their heads over the edge into the tunnel about 15 feet just above me! Of all the seats they could have gotten they were right at the entrance. We shouted back and forth and let some joyful tears flow before I made my entrance onto the main stage with the whole USA Olympic Team. It was an exhilarating moment and one I will never forget.
Q. You describe yourself as a fitness trainer, wellness coach and motivational speaker. How much of this do you do in the Sandpoint community?
A. I offer private training and group training. What interests me is integrating the entire athlete. We’re not just a body, so I typically train athletes in faith and fitness, food, and family. I help people find the balance, how to be fit and how to care for not only the body, but the soul, too.
Social goals are part of this as well, not just caring about ourself, but realizing you are a part of something bigger than yourself as an athlete. I have plans to introduce a new masters training group for the athletes over 30 in the greater Sandpoint area.
I’ve been asked to go all over the U.S. to speak to teenagers, moms and businessmen. I talk to young athletes about how to be true to themselves, to keep the proper perspective as they aim for the top and to be healthy competitors. Dealing with all the dynamics we have as athletes is important because not every day is a top-of-the-podium kind of day. My racing background has shown me that racing is a school of moral excellence. Sport teaches so much about how to be excellent in other areas of life. The lessons of singular focus, determination and rigor carry through.
Q. Tell us about the Sandpoint Nordic Club.
A. What is going on here is special. I come from a place with more funding and a deeper winter, but not necessarily with people as excited about it and not necessarily the results to show for it. I’ve been working with the competition team, which is where I really like getting involved because I can use my coaching. We have some great athletes. And then the kids’ rec program is fun too. A day on skis for me is not a day at work.
I love how accessible and good the University of Idaho property on Boyer is. Alpine skiing can be cost prohibitive, but the Sandpoint Nordic Club has made this sport so affordable. It’s unbelievable, really. I mean, why wouldn’t you get your kid involved? And there is quality equipment available. This was exactly my start into the sport. It was economical, there was quality, and it was healthy. We have that here. Maybe we also have the next Olympian right here.
Nordic has prepared me for just about any sport I want to do in life. It creates a strong upper body, and you become coordinated and fit as a fiddle. It’s so gentle on the body. It makes your alpine skiing better. It makes you do everything better.
With the groomed trails in town Nordic skiing is a lunchtime sport, too. You can jump out to the U of I property on Boyer and rip out a 45-minute workout at lunch or after work. It’s Sandpoint’s answer to winter fitness during the week.
Q. What other kinds of races or events would you like to see around here?
A. Oh man, this valley has got to get racing! Kids are so competitive naturally. Last year we had an uphill race at Schweitzer. The kids were hungry to compete and they did awesome. We should be able to host some races at Boyer. Some sprints and relays there would be fun.
We could have a summer adventure race here. Orienteering, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, rappelling. We need more racing. Sandpoint should have stuff like that. I would love to work with the local community to get more racing happening.
Q. One of your ambitions is “to live heroic virtue and become a saint.” That’s big stuff. How are you doing? Any miracles yet?
A. I struggle with that every day, but my faith informs me that it’s possible through God working in me. We look to heroes. We look to people who give their life for another. I want to be a saint because that would be fulfilling my greatest calling. That would be true to the real competition we’re in. That would be a legacy worth leaving way beyond that of being an Olympian.
In my own life there have been miracles for sure. We lost a child shortly after birth two years ago. It was such a severe mercy. The miracle is that God is faithful and I felt walked with the whole way through and a certain “peace the world cannot give.” Sometimes I have lived in a bubble of sorts, trying to be that perfect, smart, fast, pretty person in this life. Stripping all that off, what do I have left (makes the noise of a bubble bursting), but a challenge to know God and make him known? He trusts me to guide and help other people and he has handed me a few lessons lately, asking me to feel this or that out and see if I can turn to help others gracefully.
Q. Your son, Tabor, beat you in our region’s biggest ski race, Mount Spokane’s Langlauf, last season. That seems like a pretty big milestone. How did it feel to you?
A. I started with a fast pace, and I didn’t see Tabor and I didn’t see Tabor. At about two-and-a-half kilometers I heard this familiar stride behind me, and sure enough he pulls around me to the right and just kind of smiles at me and takes off. I watched his back for the next seven-and-a-half kilometers and I could not answer. It was so joyous to realize he finally bested me. He was proud of himself, but for me it was a triumph.
Q. Anything else you’d like to say?
A. A day on skis is a great day!