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Rebecca Dussault: An Olympian explains the transgender threat to women’s sports

Below is a transcript of the Respect Life Radio interview with Rebecca Dussault, a 2006 Winter Olympian in cross-country skiing and a world champion winter triathlete. A wife and mother of six, based in Idaho, her websites include RebeccaDussault.com and FitCatholicMom.com

BENNETT: Welcome to Respect Life Radio. My name is Deacon Geoff Bennett with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver. Today, our special topic is the greatest threat to women's sports. Our special guest today is Rebecca Dussault: wife, mother, Olympian, world champion, fitness coach and motivational speaker. She comes to us from the Catholic Speakers Organization. If you'd like to book one of their speakers for a talk or an interview, please go to CatholicSpeakers.com.

BENNETT: So today I'd like to start, Rebecca, to talk about how athletics has been so prominent in your life — not only as a young girl — but as it is today and helped you to develop as to who you are.

DUSSAULT: Sports and physical fitness have really shaped me into the woman I am today. Praise God. The influence of sport came at a time when I was really needy as a child. I grew up in a broken home, as of about nine years old. And while we had a chance for the whole family to transition to the next chapter, some of us did it less gracefully than others. And I would only claim gracefulness on my part because God came in and rescued that hole in my heart and put Himself in place there. So while I filled Him with that I was also at the same time being filled with good outward experiences, good mentors and great authority over me to speak words of affirmation into who I was as a young woman, with a broken home came something quickly that I just gravitated to and I tried it all. I got so fired up with sports and I thought I'd be an Olympian in gymnastics and then nope it wasn't gymnastics. Then I thought, OK, swimming and, nope, it wasn't swimming. I just kind of stayed hot on the trail to greatness with athletics. I thought that meant a lot and I still do. And my mother will remind anyone that, at four years old, I watched the Olympics and I said I want to be an Olympian. And so that's kind of a fun wayback story piece of information.

But I truly feel that there was a flame lit within me and that flame is not burnt out and it never will because I have a passion for what sports can do for the human condition. And I've experienced that, certainly, with the pinnacle of that being the Olympics. And World Championships and other notable places and podiums that I would say were super highlights for me. But at the end of the day, it really informs me of who I am, that I am worth trying for, worth striving for, worth working on and that I don't have to just settle. And I don't have to stagnate, but that God's always calling me further spiritually. And I've got to rise up and challenge myself further physically. So sport is...I still eat, breathe and sleep...that's not the right way to put it. But you know when someone just skis, you say that you eat, sleep and ski, or whatever. It's very much a prominent role in my life and now that I have children, too. We're trying to balance that right because like anything it can become out of balance.

BENNETT: Yes, right, keep it a good perspective. On your website, or one of them anyway, it says Fit Catholic Mom, train the body, nourish the soul. And it sounds like that's kind of what's been going on for your life since you were a little kid.

DUSSAULT: Very much so. And there were some definite points I could point to where that cued up even stronger. One of those was receiving the Eucharist standing on my cross-country skis with our parish family out on a moonlight ski. And I thought you know this is a really grand collision of two of my greatest loves: that of sport and that of spirituality. And look at, they can come together in this place, in this amazing moonlit scenery. And I thought, you know, I've never received the Eucharist while I was competitively swimming. I definitely didn't receive it up on the balance beam. So this is really neat. And it also breathes life into the fact that it is a very family sport that I gravitated to and that would be a whole 'nother ball of wax to unwind. But it's important that all of us can get something out of our sporting experience, even the parents involved. And so, I could sense from a young age that cross-country skiing really did that for me on a lot of levels. And so now I aim to keep teaching that message of how do you bring others along into your sporting journey as a fit Catholic mom? How do you not push others away so you can sweat, but really how do you undergo formation so that you're a healthy, happy and holy mom. We we need moms that could say that about themselves. That is certainly from God, quite the gift and the grace.

BENNETT: Well, I can't argue with that. I couldn't agree with you more, either. You know back in the 1970s, Title IX came out to create women's sports. And so, you've talked about how important sports are to you. But now we're at a place where trans athletes, men, are competing against women. At some point, I read a quote the other day, that if this continues and they allow men to compete in women's sports, you'll basically have men's sports and coed sports and there will be no such thing as women's sports.

DUSSAULT: I would hope it doesn't become that extreme. But we've got to look at the course we're charting. We are wading into some really dangerous waters, with some objective criteria that is being loosened all the time, up to the highest levels. Even the Olympics, the IOC, taking on board some of this. We as a people need to consider the consequences right now, before the whole can of worms is opened. Because, we see it at the high school level. OK. Well, that's got to be dealt with. We can't just act like that's a non-issue because those are the athletes that bloom into Olympians and impact the whole world at the level of our mentors, they return as our coaches, they stay in the industry of sport and certainly as athletes.

Now, that said, I am all for all people getting to express themselves through sport. But I am for fairness. And having competed for a long time against the well-known — the open fact that they were dopers I was competing against from other nations. Or, I wouldn't say my own but what do I know, I've never...But I could confidently say not my own, you know.

But, just knowing out there that that was a constant threat, that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how perfectly I trained, no matter how well prepared and how much of a peak performance I could pull out, that I was always going to be at a disadvantage.

Anybody in their right mind would rule that as unfair. To know you will always be at a disadvantage because someone else has some unacceptable physical edge over you. Well this is what's happening with women's sport and transgender athletes. And, again, those athletes have every right to play sport. They do not have rights, though, to trump all women's sporting with their physical abilities that are beyond the scope of what's reasonable.

And to that end...people would like to say: well, we need to look at people like Usain Bolt, who has extremely long legs. Or Michael Phelps, freakish long arms. That's fine. We don't actually categorize athletes according to how long their arms or legs are or what their lung capacity is. We just look at the biomarkers of who is physically feminine and who is physically masculine. There has to be, it's two categories: black and white.

BENNETT: I agree. I was looking online and we were kind of talking about it before we started the interview, but one of the articles just listed a few of the differences. But you have height, weight, muscle mass, body fat, aerobic capacity. I mean the list can go on and on, the difference between men and women. So to pretend that there's no difference and just because somebody identifies in a particular way they don't have a competitive advantage is silly.

DUSSAULT: For sure. We've got to just keep digging, because even the latest article I read, of course, it had the hot-button name of Caster Semenya. But it was saying what no one is reporting — who are the advocates for transgender athletes to have the right to compete in an untethered way in the female arena — what none of those advocates are reporting is that it is well-known fact that she has an XY chromosome, that's her chromosomal makeup. It's like male. Hello. Male.

BENNETT: I actually printed out that same article before we started talking. I've been reading that and thinking...

DUSSAULT: Just because outwardly and developmentally, there were some anomalies. And my hat's off to those who can gracefully wade through those waters. I'm not saying it's an easy space that she's in, wanting to be an athlete. But, in the grand scheme of things, who's going to continue on a road of complete frustration, knowing that their greatest day will always be darkened by the next best competitor who has, again, that advantage that cannot be changed?

I've thought about this. I've prayed about this. I thought: how could we remedy this because I still want those people to get the human growth experience through sporting and recreation and need that. We need that. People need to be experiencing creation and the Creator and part of that is so strongly felt through sport. But I know one example that I could think of is when we would compete and say have U.S. Nationals for cross-country skiing. Other nations were allowed to compete, but they were never allowed to actually win the race, full out, win the race. So when it came down to the national championship it was stripped down to just the Americans. But the race winner, though not awarded as such, may have been a Canadian or someone from Sweden or whatever the case was. There was always a melting pot of athletic talent which definitely pushed the level of the competition up because more talent in the pot. But at the end of the day there was some objective criteria that was upheld and that was: you're here competing in the U.S. for a U.S. National Championship.

BENNETT: I agree. There's a YouTube video out there from a high school girl in Connecticut who was talking about two males now competing against the females and she said every time we'd line up for a race and they were in it, we were competing for third. I mean there was no thought that one of the girls would be able to win and they were right. Right? The two guys came in first and second in every race. And she said that cost me a spot in the state competition. It could cost scholarships. I mean it really has a ripple effect on girls going to college and really participating at the collegiate level.

DUSSAULT: I would be on the screaming end of that ordeal for sure. This is not OK. And for someone to just read the results list — a recruiter halfway across the nation or something — reading results lists. The transgender athlete then is going by, Mary Thomas, or whatever the name is, and it doesn't not stick out what the issue at hand is. It does not clarify who is who and what is what. And it's such a disservice to our girls who we have a hard enough time keeping in sports. Let's be honest. How many girls if they had been more involved in sport and given more opportunity through sport would be...How fewer teen pregnancies or drug addiction or whatever it is. Sport is a remedy out of that. But if sport is going to be topped by this minuscule percentage of people who are going to insist on competing in a category that we can't match as females, then we're going to have, there's going to be a landslide of issues. We're just literally at the tip of this iceberg.

BENNETT: It doesn't feel like we're slowing down, either. From your experience in terms of creating leadership and self-esteem. I mean all those things that money can't buy. But competing in sports can really bolster someone's thought of themselves and their confidence level.

DUSSAULT: Amen. And amen again. Absolutely. We see women who have been involved in the formation, just the whole formative experience of sport and competition, going on to do really incredible things. And even the balance we see between student athletes. I know for myself, when I became a parent athlete, I had such a really great balance in my life. It wasn't all just sport, that wasn't my whole identity. I wasn't crushed if I lost the race. I could come home and still love and hug and hold on to my husband and my son as we were competing the world over for years and years and that brought great balance to me. We see that same balance played out in the student athlete. And so, if we're going to have girls just dropping sport on account of unfair play, we're going to, the ramifications are going to go deeper than we want to admit, really.

BENNETT: Well, there's a bill trying to go through Congress, H.R. 5, the Equality Act, that many say that if it passes it will kill women's sports. Because it'll basically, you were talking about it being the tip of the iceberg. This will just open the floodgates and there's nothing anybody can do about it. And if you do say something you're called a bigot or a hater.

DUSSAULT: I would love to see just a rising up. What does it take for evil to take hold? The good man does nothing. Well, we're in that position right now. We need to ask female athletes: be unafraid to have a voice in this. Now, one position that we can consider is that a lot who otherwise might say something are being silent, because they're afraid of losing their sponsorships, their funding dollars, whatever it is, again, just repressed by their situation. But that's not going to serve anybody at the end of this. If we could even have the foresight to realize how bad and ugly this is going to get for women's sport, we would have the backbone to say something. I will certainly say something. I don't care what kind of persecution, because you stand up for the truth. Wherever you find the truth being pressed down, you have to help the truth rise. Whether that's spiritually, or in this case, a very physical application of that, it's still only right and fitting that we rise up and say something. And I would just love to see a huge voice for it, somewhere, somehow.

BENNETT: You mentioned truth. Love rejoices in the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. So when we deny the truth we're really denying Christ.

DUSSAULT: We are and we will be judged on cowardice. If we don't do what's right for women in sport. It's a very worthy cause. What women have been given through sport in this role in their life, it's really priceless. And so we can decide that that's worth saving, that's worth holding on to and investing in for our future. Or we can just say, hey you know what: we've got this little side agenda that has a strong really loud voice and we're either going to yield to it or not. But it would be a tragic day. Certainly it would be hard for me. I just had my second daughter, out of our six children, and I cannot imagine trying to fashion her life in such a way that she'll be attracted to sports and want their great benefit, but knowing full well she will always have to compete against athletes that she will not be able to beat even on her best days. And that would be hard. That's very dream crushing.

BENNETT: At some point you have no hope of winning. You were talking about other athletes speaking up. Not too long ago, Martina Navratilova spoke up, got hammered and then backed down, was afraid, the pressure crushed her. That's the part you're trying to talk about: look you can't worry about that stuff. Right is right. And it's always right.

DUSSAULT: You can't. And if she would have kept her spine intact and said what she said and meant what she said, how many others might have had the spine to join her? But if you get wishy-washy and you're going to flip-flop on your position because of pressure, it doesn't serve the cause, really. I'm glad she said something initially, but we need black-and-white truth in this. We just need objective criteria, purely need that. I don't know if they need to make a third class of people who want to compete against one another, but they cannot be just lumped in with women.

BENNETT: Because they're not.

DUSSAULT: They're not.

BENNETT: No matter how you cut it, you either have an XX or an XY chromosome. Those things don't change and you are what you are. Now if you're not happy with who you are and you want to compete, I agree with you, right? Let people compete, but only the women can actually win first, second and third or whatever the order ends up being.

DUSSAULT: I would just love to see it just absolutely black and white. Let's be honest. I mean I just threw out there, that they could have their own category. But you know what, pick out the physical markers of A set over here or B set over there. You're in one race or the other, period. So it's a long rabbit trail to really go in and investigate that about each of those kind of specifically unique cases. But for the justice of all, let's get it figured out.

They've put sport in this position by making these convoluted choices. Lord have mercy. I love those individuals but they're making it very difficult for what is otherwise a not difficult situation. I think our organizations really need to, whatever, if they need to poll their members or what. This is not something that the majority are accepting or that we're voting on or we're saying “yes” to. It's being ramrodded down the throats of female competitors and events and things. Who's going to speak up and who's going to really get the momentum going? I don't know but we'd better build some traction now because we've got an uphill battle.

BENNETT: We spent too much time being quiet and I agree with you. It's going to take people with a spine. The other thing is every woman's record will disappear, right? At some point...

DUSSAULT: That's so true.

BENNETT: Florence Griffith Joyner and all the great athletes' names will disappear because guys will be taking those places.

DUSSAULT: I'm sick to my stomach just thinking about it, to be honest. I mean those women through blood, sweat, tears and every other thing really put themselves out there and rose to the top of their sport and left an indelible mark on the mission of sport, the accomplishment of sport, the record of sport. And to have that overturned by what is still such a minuscule amount of competitors. And it will remain that way. Just look at society over. And those couple individuals who will be able to smash and trash records all over the place. I'm sorry. I can only think of the word twisted.

BENNETT: Well, it's cheating. And at some point, if you cheat, how good do you feel about really winning, right? Any normal person would be like, there's just no satisfaction knowing that I was able to play with two hands and somebody had a hand tied behind their back or whatever. There's no gratification in winning when you know you have an unfair competitive advantage.

DUSSAULT: That's right. You know we have other voices speaking into this issue and saying, well people are only making a stink like in Connecticut because the first place and second place intersex athletes — or transgender athletes, I think in that case — they're only making a stink because they got first and second. I mean if they'd gotten 33rd and 54th or something, nobody would care. We do care, we do care. Because there's the locker room afterwards, there's the bathroom on the side of the event. I mean it's so, this issue is huge. It really is huge. We have the encroachment upon what is a woman space. And where's all the women's voices who protect women on all kinds...

BENNETT: On all kinds of other issues, in terms of equal pay, and all this other thing that we constantly hear about, which, hey, more power to you. Why do they shrink away when this is the issue? Like you said, you have two daughters. I have two daughters. I can't imagine going on an away road trip and my daughter having to room with a guy or sharing a locker room or bathroom. You kind of touched on it, but that — on top of everything else — those are other issues people can't ignore.

DUSSAULT: It's the way of anything, right? It creeps in and there's some amount of subtlety to it, that's it's just...That's totally disconcerting, too. Because it is a lie. It is a cheat. It is something we know to be false. And what we are to fight against. So that's what rises up my spirit against it. And at the same time wanting a solution for these athletes. I have a quote here actually from something but it was...Did I scroll around and miss it? Anyways, it was something like, if we make this even harder for these trans athletes, they're going to be less inclined to make their sex change or whatever...Wait, no, so we have to have this ruling approved. And this all good because then it won't discourage anyone from having their sex changed? I thought, really, is that the pressure we're going to apply?

BENNETT: It's almost silly. And then we're dealing with false compassion. You were talking about truth earlier. If we're not going to share the truth with people and...We do talks here in Denver on the transgender movement and for people who have transitioned and then detransitioned back — almost to a person they say, I wish somebody would have told me what I was doing was wrong. I don't know that I would have listened, but I wish somebody would have had the courage to speak the truth. Which is kind of what you're saying.

DUSSAULT: For sure. I did find the quote. It's talking about this gentleman named Liew but it says that a “'protracted and often traumatic transition process' and that 'securing the necessary medical and physiological documentation' would deter male athletes from transitioning and gaming the system.'” And it goes on to say “it would be 'inspiring' for trans children to see transgendered athletes completely monopolize women's sport.”

Why would we not stop this momentum in its tracks? Why would we let it gain a foothold?

BENNETT: I don't get it. You don't get it. I mean that's why I think we all need to speak up and that's why I really appreciate you coming on to speak about it because it has to come from a woman's perspective. Not like we can't have a perspective but you've competed at the highest level and you can just see the train wreck that's about to happen, if we don't stop something now. So we've got about a minute to go. I appreciate what you've done. How can people follow what you're doing and really follow you on the Web and how can people get a hold of you?

DUSSAULT: Well, my closing comment to all of this would just be that I competed against a lot of men. But it's always been optional. That's me choosing to compete in their arena because there are many a days when a woman in some circumstances can compete against a man. It's a great gratifying feeling, but that is my choice...

If people want to follow more of what I do, certainly FitCatholicMom.com, on social media @FitCatholicMom. My whole mission is to get Catholic moms to be able to sculpt their health and their happiness and their holiness and really crush it in their motherly vocation. We need strong Catholic families. I believe with my whole heart that begins with the mother and her own ability to gift herself to her family and to her community through what she has herself. So, health and holiness for the Catholic mom.

BENNETT: Well, I thank you, Rebecca, so much for being willing to come on and speak about this. And it's just great to have somebody who's living it, speak it, and really speak the truth because we do have way too many people just hiding behind the shadows afraid of what might happen if they do speak the truth.

BENNETT: Rebecca Dussault, 2006 Winter Olympian, talking about the dangers of transgender women competing against true females. If you want to find out more about Rebecca, go to RebeccaDussault.com. To book a speaker, contact Catholic Speakers Organization at CatholicSpeakers.com.