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“I believe that it sheds light on the past, gives hope for the future, and creates dreams forever.” – Rebecca (Quinn) Dussault, describing skiing in a 1999 interview.
The results read like a wish list for any junior skier: Many Time Junior National Champion (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999) , 1998 World Junior Championships 31st - 15K Classic, 24th - 5K skate, Double gold medalist 1998 Lowlanders World Championships Val di Fiemme, ITA, 5th , 5th and 6th at 1998 Senior Nationals in Bend, OR, a stint on the US Ski team. The hopes of women’s skiing in this country were placed squarely on the shoulders of then Rebecca Quinn, now Rebecca Dussault, the lithe blonde from Gunnison, Colorado that owned the junior ranks for the better part of the late 1990s. Dussault had created such fervor amongst coaches and competitors alike with her skiing. Few thought anything would stand between her and international success. They were wrong. In the 2000 season, Dussault walked away from national ski racing. She married and had a child before the age of twenty one. Critics bemoan a decidedly Christian background as bedrock for her decision to marry and begin a family so young. Coaches speak wistfully of her leaving skiing.
In the subsequent years since Dussault’s self imposed removal from high-level skiing, Nordic skiing has moved forward. US Nationals has gained momentum, increasing its numbers exponentially every year. 2002 was a year marked with visible national and international success for a variety of skiers. The circumstances of Rebecca Dussault’s skiing hiatus were quelled as was her very absence. Until today.
Down the road from Gunnison, Crested Butte is enjoying the throws of Rocky Mountain winter at nine thousand plus feet. Snow blankets the streets and piles up along the small delicate homes. The Nordic trails at the North end of town are manicured and littered with college skiers from all over the west. Walla Walla, Washington, Salt Lake City,UT Anchorage Alaska, Boulder and Denver, Colorado are here today. The Utes of Salt Lake are strong. Two-time Estonian Olympian Katrin Smigun anchors the women’s team. Despite living in the shadow of her World Cup winning sister Kristina, Katrin has boasted top twenties in the world cup, and top fifteens in Olympic competition. She is the type of fast you only hear about in articles like this one. Consequently, Katrin Smigun has, until today, been unchallenged in her first year as a collegiate skier.
In the biting cold, at Crested Butte, a lonely US ski team suit could be seen. Rebecca Dussault had come down the road from Gunnison to ski today.
America’s most decorated skier, Nina Kemppel said once, “women’s mass starts are always rougher than the men’s, the men play by the rules.” I watched the women scrambling over corduroy this morning and saw the competition. Amidst colliding poles and bodies, Dussault and Smigun emerged in front….and stayed there.
The ten kilometer course was almost wholly visible from a vantage point near the start / finish line. Over the rolling and, occasionally difficult, course Smigun and Dussault took turns battling for the lead. At times, Smigun appeared fatigued, at time Dussault suffered but neither showed any fissure in countenance, and pace. It was unreal.
“Who is that?” I heard a coach from the watching knoll ask.
“That’s Rebecca Quinn.” Another answered.
“She should start skiing again.” The first said..
“It looks like she has.” The second quipped.
Around and around they went. The Olympian and the Christian, the full time athlete and the full time mother. Each taking turns turning over the tempo. In the end a sprint finish yielded a true tie between the two. The two had outpaced the rest of the competitive field. They had created a gap beginning at first few strokes of the chaotic mass start that didn’t ever yield.
There was a profundity in the way that the two women skied that can only be expressed in the silence and shock of the crowd in Crested Butte this morning. I’ve replayed the race in the recent afternoon hours thinking how rarely skiing of that caliber is visible and what it might mean.
Whether or not Dussault begins skiing with international competitions in mind again, whether she recognizes the tragic tease of the Crested Butte race, today, there are few who witnessed and consider her meteoric rise to success and rapid retreat thereafter that won’t say the same befuddled two words in a spirit of hope and reverence for our sport,