Chronicles of a Dustball - Page 2
Scott Jurek, in his Western States 100-Mile heyday, and Olson, pacing, at the Rucky Chucky river crossing. Photo by Patitucci Photo.
Finding a Niche—or Three
Olson’s own opportunities as an athlete had been plentiful, and he had pursued nearly all of them, sometimes simultaneously. Born in Portland, Oregon, Olson grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, where his parents would take him to the local YMCA.
“I was a hyperactive little kid, so they would drop me off there and I would be running around and swimming a lot,” Olson says. “The lifeguards just had me do laps and laps and laps, and eventually they put me on the Y’s swim team.”
Before long, he was also playing in the northern Minnesota snow. “I lived about two miles from Chester Bowl [ski area], so in third grade I was riding my bike up there almost every day,” Olson says. “They had downhill skiing and ski jumping there, plus a lot of cross-country ski trails.”
But Olson, whose father had run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, had the makings of an endurance athlete. “My parents were never into actually supporting me, but they’d drop me off at the races,” he says. “To hear others tell the story, basically a car would pull up, then a little kid would jump out and they’d drive away.”
He was also convinced to try cross-country skiing by a member of the local high-school team, as well as by Dave Israel, a skier who lived in Duluth. “Dave helped me through my teenage years since I didn’t have a very good time at home,” Olson says. “He was pretty much the first and only coach I had.”
Regardless, Olson had found a niche. At Duluth East High School, Olson enjoyed success as a skier—as long as his grades didn’t get him suspended from competition ahead of the state meet. He finished third in the region as a ninth grader, and won regionals as a senior prior to placing fifth at the state meet. In 1993, he won junior nationals in the skate and relay.
“Dusty had a habit of independence and kind of turned himself away from authority,” says Ed Kohler, who skied against Olson in high school and was on the junior-nationals-winning relay team with him. “He listens to everyone and everyone’s advice, but he doesn’t like a formal coaching relationship. He still knows a lot of stuff, just from ‘going to the University of Life,’ as he calls it.”
Olson was also an accomplished runner, earning all-state honors as a senior.
That would have been enough activity for most high schoolers, but Olson’s appetite for pushing himself as an athlete was insatiable.
“In high school I was bike racing a lot, too,” he says. “I started doing triathlons and got third in the Brewhouse Triathlon [in Duluth] when I was 17. I was also a Class 5 whitewater paddler and spent a lot of time doing that.”
Kohler recalled a day when he and Olson were at a friend’s house in St. Paul, watching homemade kayaking videos, when Olson was struck by inspiration.
“After a few beers he thought it would be a good idea to bring one of their kayaks in the house and ride it down the stairs into the basement,” Kohler says. “Then after a few more beers, he thought it would be a good idea to go down backwards.”