Rebecca Dussault races for the Saab-Salomon Factory Team. More information on the Saab-Salomon Factory Team can be found at www.enjoywinter.com.
By: Sharbel Dussault – Words are hard to describe what a victory at the 36th American Birkebeiner means to Rebecca Dussault of Gunnison, CO. Ever since she started ski racing as a junior she has dreamed of winning the 50 km Birkebeiner and on February 21st she accomplished her dream and stood on top of the podium!
The race started early in the morning with fresh snow on the course. Thousands of racers lining up to tackle the daunting 50 kilometers (31miles) from Cable, WI to Hayward, WI. For a cross country skier, the Birkie is North America’s largest and one of the most challenging and prestigious races with roughly 7000 participants.
Rebecca’s race got off to a sketchy start as she forgot her water bottle and carrier in the van and didn’t have time to track it down before the start. That meant racing without any drink on her until she could get feeds somewhere along the 50 km race course. The new snow on the course also was a cause for concern. Had her Swix wax technicians waxed for these conditions? (of course he had) Were her skis going to run fast or slow? (fast) As she experienced last week in Europe, that is always a major aspect of racing, especially in a 50 km race.
Rebecca didn’t feel great right off the start and in fact it took her about 32 km to start feeling like a win was possible. The mental tenacity to keep fighting, to keep pushing, to keep believing is what makes up a true winner. Rebecca showed us all once again that she is a fighter, one who perseveres. This race is not just a flat easy ski. The Birkebeiner course is made up of huge rolling hills that provide little rest. There are hardly any flat sections. It is a constant effort and takes total focus to make sure you don’t let anyone break away and if someone does it is almost impossible to catch them. Approaching the mid-point of the race, Rebecca and three others had formed the lead group for the women. She had incredible support from her teammates from the Saab Salomon Factory Team, Laura McCabe previous winner and Kristina Strandberg of Sweden. Working together they kept this select pack off the front for 30 km. I had told Rebecca the night before on the phone, “if it comes down to a sprint, whatever you do, do not lead out the sprint. You have to be patent.” Rebecca realized that it was most likely going to come down to a sprint so she started telling herself, “be patient, be patient.” Rebecca stayed in second position and readied herself for the final sprint on Main St. in downtown Hayward. Just thinking of sprinting after 50 km of racing makes me cringe. With only 400 meters left to go Rebecca held her position and waited to pounce and at just the right moment she let it all out. Giving every last bit of energy, draining the fuel tank, putting the pedal to the metal, in perfect motion and coordination and racing at top speed she pulled up along side Holly Brooks of Anchorage, looked up to see the finish line and threw herself and her ski at that red line in the snow as did Holly and with that little extra effort Rebecca became the Birkebeiner Champion. Yes, it was a photo finish and the timing clock put Rebecca victorious by 6/10 of a second.
Wow! I could hardly believe it when Rebecca called me and the boys with the news. After all that Rebecca has been through during the past year you wouldn’t think it possible. As you know, during the past year there has been an overwhelming challenge and stress on the family with my fight against ulcerative colitis. The surgeries, the countless hours at the hospitals and taking care of so much more than usual make this comeback an amazing story for Rebecca and our family. It is truly remarkable to see Rebecca back at the top and fitter than ever. If I told you her training plan and her hours you wouldn’t think it was possible but she has a gift and has found the grace of God to help her realize and use her gift to the greatest potential.
Until next time, God’s Blessing, Sharbel Dussault