Not long after Andrew Kastning began his tenure as UAA’s head Nordic coach back in 2011, he signed his first-ever recruits, and he was pretty excited about it. He called me one evening in the spring to announce to me that his first two UAA recruits were going to be Pati Sprecher from Switzerland and Marine Dusser from France. I think he’d found them on the result page of the Engadin Ski Marathon in St. Moritz, where they’d raced against each other once during the previous winter. But while Pati came to Alaska with considerable experience racing both classic and skating techniques, Marine had been spending her time competing for the French national team in biathlon. And as you may already know, biathletes are too busy messing around with their rifles to waste their time fretting over kick wax. So while we had some idea that Marine would be pretty fast in the skating races, the classic skiing situation remained a bit of a mystery to all of us, including Marine. By and by, Pati and Marine both arrived in Alaska, they both were successful, and we all had a nice time together.
|A typical scene in 2013: Marine had a way of getting not just one coach, but TWO coaches to slave over her kickwax while she stood by, giving directions. (Sorry, Marine, but those days are behind you now.)|
I have this little game I like to play when I first get to know new UAA skiers who didn’t grow up in Alaska. I ask myself whether our new skier will eventually leave Alaska and move on to some other place after college, or whether they will get hooked on Alaska for whatever reason, and end up remaining here to establish a career, a family, etc. I have never told Marine this (so don’t tell her) but when she arrived in Alaska I didn’t know how long she would stay, but I suspected it wouldn’t be more than a year or two at the very most. It was a pretty rainy fall that year, and a cold winter, and Marine had come to us from the southern French Alps where they get a lot of sunshine…. and somehow, for one reason or another I just got the impression in those first few months that deep down, Marine would rather have been there than here.
|Marine has told me several times that she enjoys very cold weather. But I'm not sure if I've ever really believed her.|
But I also noticed something else about Marine in those first few months. She had really good body awareness and physical coordination. She was a fantastic skater, but she wasn’t very confident in her classic skiing. Nevertheless, she was able to watch and learn from others, and incorporate what she learned into her own technique very quickly and naturally. One time that first November, during a practice at the Hillside trails, Andrew told Marine, “We want you to change your classic technique so that instead of doing it the way you’re doing it, you do it THIS way. It’s a little complex and difficult, so we can keep working on it throughout the winter...” Marine gave it a try, executing exactly what Andrew had explained and asked, “Did I do it right?” After Marine skied off, having changed her technique significantly in the space of about two minutes, Andrew looked at me, and paused, and said, “Well... I guess that was easy.” It still makes me laugh every time I think of that moment and the way he said it.
Our first big race of the year in 2013 was during the first week of January at the US National Championships in Utah. It was a 30km mass-start classic race, and there was some uncertainty as to how things would play out since Marine hadn’t done any classic races yet, and was starting near the back of the field in around the 68th spot in the starting grid. My assignment was to station myself near the top of the first major uphill with spare poles in case any of our skiers broke one in the start, so I was standing beside a short, steep section that everyone would have to herringbone up due to its steepness. By the time the field reached me, a little less than a kilometer into the race, Marine had already moved up to somewhere around 20th, but when the group got to the little steep bump and everyone broke into herringbone, Marine broke into what she knew best – skating. I’ve been around this sport long enough to know trouble when I see it, so I got on the radio to Andrew and told him he needed to get some place on the course that was deserted and private – fast – and he needed to convey to Marine in the clearest terms possible that this is a classic race and you’re not supposed to skate. When Marine got this information from Andrew, she yelled back, “Oh, I know! The Utah girls already yelled at me and told me I’m not supposed to do that anymore. So we're all good now!” Marine ended up something like sixth among the college women. Not a bad classic debut. And in fact, her first college win came on the same course the following year – in a classic race!
|Here's a photo I took of Marine during that US National's race I was discussing above. Any physical evidence of any alleged skating during that race has been destroyed, and all that's left is hearsay and innuendo.|
Marine went on to have a successful college career, getting a degree, winning some college races, reaching the podium in every single weekend of regular-season college racing she ever did, getting on the podium in both races at the NCAA Championships in Middlebury, Vermont, and just barely missing out on being the RMISA “MVP” during her senior year in 2014.
|The NCAA podium in 2013. A familiar place for Marine.|
After finishing college, she moved back to France and worked for Rossignol, where her assignment was to design a line of activewear for the company. But it seemed every time I turned around, Marine was either in Alaska, was soon coming to Alaska, or had just left Alaska. She had a boyfriend here, and the two of them couldn’t bear to be apart from each other for long, so whenever Erik Bjornsen wasn’t in France visiting Marine, Marine was here visiting Erik. Last spring, the two got engaged and they plan to tie the knot next summer in France. In the meantime, Marine has moved permanently to Anchorage.
|Marine and Etienne, relaxing with music between races on the road.|
You may (or may not) be wondering why I’m giving you Marine’s life history here on this blog. It’s because Marine has recently accepted the position of UAA’s assistant Nordic coach! I know that Andrew is very excited to have secured Marine for this role, as she will bring some special skills and her own personality to the team. Marine comes (back) to us with a lot of heart, and a dose of stubbornness, that is going to add significantly to the coaching team’s palette here. She is not afraid to express her opinion, and she comes into this role with a considerable amount of recent high-level racing experience.
Marine comes into this coaching job extremely fit, having won some Alaska mountain running races during the past couple of summers, and her fitness is going to enable her to be that much more effective as a coach when we’re out on the ski trails. Marine also knows skis. She demonstrated during her time as a UAA skier that she knows the difference between fast skis and slow skis, and she understands ski flex and ski grind. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that her dad, Bruno, ranks high with Rossignol, and his name can even be found on some of the Rossi ski patents. Marine has had no lack of good-quality skis available to her through her connections at Rossignol, and it was a rare day when her teammate Lasse wasn’t begging Marine to let him borrow a pair of her skis for one of his races. (When Lasse went off to compete for Denmark in the World Championships in Italy in 2013, he boarded the flight with a bag full of Marine’s skis.) We coaches always appreciated Marine’s candor when testing skis before races. She didn’t hesitate to firmly state her opinion about which grind she preferred for the snow conditions of the day, and she wasn’t afraid to tell us when her skis were too slow, or really fast. And she knew the difference. Not everyone does.
I was chatting with Marine a few weeks ago in a parking lot in East Anchorage, and she was gushing about how much she’d been enjoying coaching Anchorage’s junior biathlon program during this past summer. While she enjoyed the process of designing a clothing line for Rossignol, she told me that she found much more joy in helping athletes to accomplish their personal goals, especially as she was working with young biathletes who had a lot of unrealized potential. Marine told me she felt like she’d found her calling this summer when she started coaching, and she’s really fired up to get started at UAA.
I’m so happy that it turns out I was wrong all those years ago when I guessed that Marine would leave Alaska not long after her arrival here. We welcome Marine’s return to UAA in the role of assistant coach. I know that Andrew is excited to work with her again, no longer in a coach/athlete relationship but now together as coaches. Marine showed during her skiing career here that she knows how to win college races, and she won her fair share of them. I hope our Seawolf athletes will take the opportunity to learn some of her tricks.
|Marine has this message for the Seawolf Nordic skiers.|