Chronicles of a Dustball - Page 4
Olson prides himself on his sporting versatility, from ultrarunning to skiing to paddling. Photo by Justin Bastien.
Dusty the Sidekick
Yet the way Olson would come to be defined—at least in running circles outside Duluth, where he is considered a local legend all his own—was as a prominent but not leading figure in Jurek’s development, life and career. The super-domestique. That certainly wasn’t how it started, though.
“I looked up to [Olson] a lot as far as someone who worked really hard in training,” Jurek says. “Dusty resonated with me when it came to the work ethic early on in my career—put in the miles, work your butt off. That’s who he was.”
Of course, their athletic fortunes reversed somewhat, and while Olson is not bitter— despite what some tellings of the story suggest—he admits his eventual role wasn’t his dream as an athlete.
“The whole thing kind of snuck up on me,” Olson says. “When Scott asked me to pace at Angeles Crest in 1998, I was like, ‘Sweet, I’ll do it.’ The first couple years I was just helping a friend out. But as Scott started having more and more good results, I had more and more pacing responsibilities, and I was able to focus less on my own opportunities to train and race.”
Not that he was required to help. “We were buddies, and I asked him to crew for me because we liked each other’s company,” Jurek says. “We both loved it. But people sometimes see his role as a supporting role. It’s unfortunate now, but for some reason a lot of people see it in a different way.”
Jurek’s life wasn’t all glitz and glam, either. Most elite ultrarunners don’t rake in huge paychecks today, and that was even more the case in the early 2000s. “I was working extremely hard the whole time,” Jurek says. “Dusty was too. I wanted him to be in on that because he kept it fun. It’s too bad people get this impression that there’s sour grapes, that I got all the fame and glory and Dusty got nothing.”
Olson, for his part, says he was happy to help a friend.
Olson running the East Rim, Zion National Park, Utah. Photo by Justin Bastien.
“I was happy to help Scott...[even though] it was hard to juggle it with my job as a self-employed carpenter and my own life,” he continues. “But being a Midwesterner, you just kind of put your head down and work hard for someone, and hope it comes around. It is what it is.”
Olson also accepts that this scenario may have been an inevitable result of Jurek’s willingness—and Olson’s reluctance—to focus on just one athletic pursuit. “I might not have had the results he has, but I’m well-rounded,” he says. “I can rip through moguls on telemark skis, and paddle through steep creeks.”
Kohler, who lives in St. Paul but has stayed in touch with Olson since high school, says it fits Olson’s friends-first mentality.
“Even with all the time [he travels], whenever he’s passing through the Twin Cities, he’s always good at staying in touch and coming around,” Kohler says. “He’s always good about trying to get together.”
These days, Olson is a more autonomous fixture on the running and skiing scene than during Jurek’s peak of success. For several years he split his time between Duluth in the summer and Winter Park, Colorado, in the winter, before a job change found him coaching a high-school ski team in Minnesota.
He has also fought a recurring bout of Lyme disease that has prevented him from training much in the past year, though in at least one encounter with Decker, Olson appeared not to have lost his sense of humor.
“I’m hardly running right now,” he said, lifting his shirt to demonstrate the weight he had lost from Lyme. “But look how fit I am! I haven’t been this fit in years.”
It’s hardly the first speed bump in the road for Olson, whose story often reverts to his putting his head down and grinding it out. Failing that, his ability to handle adversity with humor is second to none.
“I’m half run bum, half ski bum,” he says of his own uncertain path. “I’d say I’ve got it pretty figured out.”
Alex Kurt is a freelance writer and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. He lives and occasionally runs on pavement in Minneapolis.