Mom Is Racing With God
GUNNISON, Colo. — When Sharbel Dussault proposed to his childhood sweetheart, Rebecca Quinn, in 1999, neither of them knew the adventure that lay ahead.
Six years later, Sharbel, Rebecca and their 3-year-old son, Tabor, are on the way to the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Rebecca qualified last month to be on the U.S. women’s cross country ski team.
The Olympics open Feb. 10. The Dussaults’ story actually goes back about 14 years, when they were 11 years old. Sharbel’s mother home schooled both him and Rebecca in Gunnison. During these years, the youngsters formed a solid friendship. By age 15, they were looking forward to marriage.
“We felt a strong bond of friendship we knew would last into marriage and until death,” Rebecca recalled. “We knew we were made for each other unto our eternal betterment.”
When they married at 19 years old, Rebecca was on her way to becoming the nation’s fastest woman skier, but she planned to finish her racing career shortly after the wedding. “I hung up the skis and was pretty sure I would never take them up at an elite level again,” she said.
Skiing had been part of Rebecca’s life for years. During her early days as part of the skiing community in Gunnison, the families involved had a positive influence on her. She loved being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation while she was skiing.
There was also a distinctly Catholic element to her experience.
“We used to go skiing in the middle of the night with a group from our church and our priest, who was an avid outdoorsman,” she recalled. “He would celebrate Mass for us in the moonlight.”
Thanks to the Catholic formation from her home schooling, Rebecca’s faith had a strong foundation.
“The more I began to learn about the Church, the more there was for me to love,” she said. She wanted to live out her faith, as did Sharbel.
“Having the same faith formation as my eventual spouse has had unbelievable advantages,” she said. “It was never a question as to whether or not we would fully embrace the Church’s teachings.”
But there was the question of whether to continue ski racing. Coaches were telling Rebecca she could be one of the best in the world, and that she had more talent than they had ever seen. But Rebecca knew this was not the source of happiness, fulfillment or living according to God’s will.
“I was convicted by the Lord that he wanted more of me than I was giving to him,” she said, “and that ultimately I would have to leave skiing to attain this gift of self.”
At the upper levels of ski competition, Rebecca faced the challenge of sharing an authentic witness of her faith with coaches and teammates. During training and competitions in Europe, Rebecca would give up the team dinners on Saturday nights to attend Mass, since she raced on Sundays.
Along with such sacrifices, she also encountered direct opposition. The young male skiers used to drill her about the meaning of the chastity ring on her finger.
“These challenges were hard for me as the lone Christian,” she says, “but it was a chance to speak about Our Lord and his plan for our bodies and our souls.”
After getting married, Rebecca left the world of competitive skiing behind, not expecting to return. She and Sharbel became partners in his family’s business. She gave birth to Tabor, which has been an “immeasurable joy” according to Rebecca, one which she and Sharbel said they pray they will experience again soon.
Shortly after Tabor was born, Rebecca attended the Olympics in Salt Lake City and watched as her former teammates competed. Holding her son in her lap, she told herself he was her gold medal.
It was not until three years after giving up the sport that Rebecca decided to pursue it again. In a local race, Rebecca beat the NCAA champion Katrin Smigun from Estonia. “Sharbel and I saw something in me that day that lit a fire in our hearts. We earnestly searched our souls and prayed about me getting back into ski racing,” she recalled.
Now, Rebecca is back in full swing. Traveling with Sharbel and Tabor, she reveals to other women athletes that being a wife and mother does not mean the loss of one’s dreams. Since 2004, she has won eight national titles, competed in the World Cup in Europe and skied for the United States in the world championships. The family has traveled to Alaska, New Zealand and Canada for training and races.
They also attended World Youth Day this summer, stopping in Italy to visit the home of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Rebecca and Sharbel have chosen at the patron of their journey to the Olympics. His image graces Rebecca’s website (www.dussaultskis.com).
Journey With Faith
Rebecca’s journey to the Olympics is intimately tied to their faith. Congregation of Saint John Father Antoine Thomas, who married Sharbel and Rebecca, admires their efforts to maintain a strong prayer life, as well as their devotion to Eucharistic adoration and Mass.
“To have a world-class athlete like Rebecca openly declaring her Catholic faith and life in the middle of so many people — coaches, athletes, Olympic staff — is certainly pleasing to Jesus,” said Father Thomas.
While the Dussaults hope Rebecca will succeed athletically, this is not their ultimate goal. Their real desire is to exemplify the joy of embracing the Catholic vision of marriage and the family.
“Our family has been a silent witness to the vocation of marriage among team members, staff, and perfect strangers,” said Sharbel. “It is very rare for a family to be seen traveling on the race circuit. We have been confronted and challenged to share our faith and our reasons for doing this as a family. We are committed to our marriage and family life. Nothing is more important than keeping our marriage strong and healthy.”
Gina Giambrone is based in
- February 5-11, 2006