Rebecca Dussault is going for the gold, and yet she feels that she has already won. Few would suspect that one person could excel as a young wife, mother and world champion cross-country ski racer.
At age 15 Rebecca started cross-country ski racing, and found herself climbing quickly to the top. She seemed to have the winning combination that U.S. Nordic Ski Coach Peter Vordenberg later described: “Rebecca is a talented an athlete as we have ever had. She has the physical talent, the mental drive, and the emotional support of her family and her strong Catholic faith.” She loved the sport because it brought her into the beauty of God’s creation. She skied with others who shared both her love for the outdoors and for God.
“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.”
A DIFFICULT CHOICE
When Rebecca married her childhood sweetheart, Sharbel, at age 19, she thought her skiing days were over. “My main reason for hanging my skies up at such a young age was to re-prioritize and break away from the spotlight. My skiing had become all-consuming and I realized that I was not going to be able to keep up the demanding schedule and raise a family.” For her, the first priority became and still is her vocation to marriage.
She and Sharbel had been friends since age 11, when his mother home schooled both of them. “We felt a strong bond of friendship we knew would last into marriage and until death,” she said, “We knew we were made for each other unto our eternal betterment.” They are both fervent Catholics.
A year after her wedding, with a spirit of docility in asking God through prayer what He was asking of her, she decided to give up skiing to show what was really important in her life. “I was convicted by the Lord that He wanted more of me than I was giving to Him,” she explained, “and that ultimately I would have to leave skiing to attain this gift of self.” This decision required true courage in taking the risk of giving up a proven and successful life in competitive racing to answer God’s call to focus on her new family.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t share with all of you my truest love of all,” she said, “the Lord Jesus Christ and his holy Catholic Church. My faith is the most important thing in my life.” “Having the same faith formation as my 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.”
On November 29th, 2001, Rebecca gave birth to a son, Tabor, her “pride and joy.” When she went to the Olympics in Salt Lake City to watch her teammates compete, she hugged her son close and told herself that he was her gold medal.
THE PIVOTAL RACE
After a three-year break, the Dussaults began to discuss the possibility of Rebecca racing again. In February of 2003 she entered a local race where she found herself competing against the two-time Olympian, Katrin Smigun, who was undefeated in all her college races.
The gun fired, and the racers took off. Soon, however, Rebecca and Katrin had left the others behind. The crowd was astounded as the two women raced neck to neck for 25 minutes. They crossed the line in a photo finish, but no one had a camera to prove who actually won.
The next weekend, Rebecca challenged Katrin in another race, and this time won. Together with her husband, she decided to begin the process of discerning whether God wanted her to get back into the world of racing.
BACK TO THE SKIS
The Dussaults again lived out the virtue of docility in their willingness to open their hearts and minds to God’s will. In humility they turned to prayer to discern God’s will, knowing that they needed God’s help and guidance. “After a lot of prayer and the determination to keep our family together no matter the cost, we came to the conclusion that now was the time. God had given me a talent and now he had given me another chance.”
Following God’s will would again require courage in taking on the rigors of Olympic training, and now with the added responsibilities of a family: “So here I am back on my skis training hard year round and proving to myself and to others that it is possible to live life to its fullest, be a mom, help run a business and persevere through all the ups and downs. It is all a matter of God’s graces helping me prioritize and schedule my life so that I can accomplish all of my goals.”
RACE SO AS TO WIN
Right now Rebecca has set her goals high: to ski well at the Torino Winter Olympics, to live heroic virtue, to become a saint, and eventually to have more children and educate them at home. With a humble resolution not to do it alone, she brings her family with her everywhere she races, and invokes the help of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati of Turin as her patron.
“I share all that I am trying to attain with those who are helping me to attain it. Traveling together is three times as full with a family but I would not sacrifice any of it because life is not just about crossing the finish line first. Throughout this journey the Lord has blessed us with family unity and taught us many lessons. I am blessed in every day to be able to share this with them.”
THE WITNESS OF A FAMILY
Sharbel has not just been with his wife every step of the way, but has shared in her struggles and triumphs as well. He has acted as Rebecca’s agent and photographer, taken care of Tabor in all of the hours of training, and has kept the business going so as to support the family. He knows that the greatest victory is not the gold medal, but the testimony 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.”
THE SECRET FORMULA
Rebecca has spent the last months in a rigorous training cycle. Her training goal was to have a fit body, to ski technically well and to have a constructive mindset which will enable her to tap into the tools and fitness she worked so hard to put into place in her training. She wants to be able to access all her physical, emotional and spiritual fitness so as to take on the world’s best at the Olympics.
She also has a wealth of motivations to spur her on: “I am motivated by my passion for competition, hard work, success, meeting goals, making friends, seeing the world, sharing my faith within sport, passing tron saint, Blessed Frassati said, “Ever Upward!”
“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17)
I urge you therefore… to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, … Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12: 1-2)
The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”….That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. (Genesis 2: 18, 24)
“Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inwardlooking self towards its liberation through selfgiving, …and indeed the discovery of God” (Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love)
“It is part of love’s growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being “for ever”” (Pope Benedict XVI God Is Love)
“It is also your task to proclaim and to witness to the humanizing power of the Gospel with regard to the practice of sport, which if lived in accordance with the Christian outlook, becomes a “generative principle” of profound human relations and encourages the building of a more serene and supportive world.” (Pope John Paul II, June 26, 2004)
Pope John Paul II when he spoke of the value of sports with a supernatural perspective: “Precisely because your competing does not take place for the sake of mere and superficial amusement, but to give proof of your ability and of what fruits a long and arduous preparation may yield, sporting effort is a real school of human virtue, of which the ancient biblical book of wisdom writes: ‘When it is present, men imitate it, and they long for it when it has gone; and throughout all time it marches crowned in triumph, victor in the contest for prizes that are undefiled.’”
2826: By prayer we can discern “what is the will of God” and obtain the endurance to do it.
1604: Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes.
1656: In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the domestic church.
SAINTS AND HEROES
BLESSED PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI (1901-1925)
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in 1901 in Turin, Italy. His sister Luciana described him as representing “the finest of Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.” He was an athlete and outdoorsman, enjoying all types of activities such as hiking, riding horses, skiing and mountain climbing. He also had a good sense of humor, with a love for laughter and practical jokes. Pier was from a wealthy family, but he lived simply so as to give to the poorest of Turin. He often served them in a hidden and humble manner. He contracted polio and died on July 4, 1925.
SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY (1207-1231)
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was born in 1207 and died before her 24th birthday. At the age of 4 she was betrothed to 11-year-old Count Ludwig IV and was sent to Germany to be educated at his castle. The two children grew and were schooled together, forming a solid friendship. Elizabeth would often help the sick and the poor, and although she was criticized for this at court she refused to defend herself. Ten years later, the two were married, and they enjoyed several happy years together. They understood each other, and shared the task of raising four children.
Elizabeth was devastated when her husband died, only six years after the wedding, but she gave herself over to a life of poverty and working with the poor until the day of her own death. One of her daughters, Gertrude, also became a saint.
Virtue Vocabulary Verification
Courage– The capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear; to have the courage of one’s convictions; to be willing to put one’s opinions and beliefs into practice
Discern– To perceive, comprehend or recognize God’s will in a situation
Docility– Part of the virtue of prudence that allows us to learn from or be led by another
Humility– Virtue that reminds us we do not know everything and that God can be trusted to guide us as a good Father.
Vocation– An inclination, in response to a call, to undertake a certain kind of work; a calling
- What are some of the qualities of the type of friendship Rebecca and Sharbel shared? How did this contribute to the success of their marriage?
- Why is it important to discern God’s will for our lives? What advantages or benefits does it give to us?
- How have Rebecca and Sharbel attempted to discern God’s will for them? How can we do this in our own lives? What other ways, besides prayer, do we hear God speaking to us?
- What things do the Dussaults do to keep marriage and family life as a priority? In what ways do they give witness to the vocation of marriage?
- How can a good spiritual life contribute to making a person a good athlete? How can a good athletic life help one’s spiritual life?
- What kind of message are the Dussaults giving to the world? Imagine that you are designing a poster for Rebecca’s promotion. What slogan could you put on it?
JOURNAL WRITING OPTIONS:
- Make a list of Rebecca’s priorities, and number them from the most important to the least important. Then, do the same for your own priorities and goals. What is most important to you? What is the least important to you?
- Have you ever given up something and then found it returned to you again? Write the story of how you decided to give it up, what your motivations and difficulties were, and how you felt when you got it back.
- Make a personal training program for your spiritual life. Pick one virtue that you want to excel in, and make of list of 5-7 concrete exercises that can help you practice that virtue. Make sure your training is rigorous, and will challenge you to grow. How can you practice this virtue at home? With your family? With friends? In your prayer?
- Sports Scripture Contest: Hold a timed contest in which students look through their Bibles to find passages related to sports (Run, Race, Strength, etc.). Students write the verse and reference on a sheet of paper to be submitted to the judges. The one with the most quotes is the winner.
- Rebecca Dussault says on her website: “Work out with people who need inspiration. Don’t be afraid to do an easy workout with someone who you may impact greatly.” Ask students to “adopt” a friend, younger sibling or neighbor whom they can do athletic activities with. Make a special effort to motivate and inspire them.
- Invite a speaker to the classroom on the theme of spiritual exercise/physical exercise, to speak about our need for both and some ways to practice health in both areas.
- Ask students to research on the Internet the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and to then write a summary of his recommendations for how to train for a life of holiness.