Champion Skier on the Harvard Course

IT'S MIDMORNING on a chilly weekday in late May, and Cara A. Dunne is strolling around her native Dunster House courtyard, doing something that's become old hat for her: smiling for the camera.

She's hardly obsessed with how she'll come across in the photo. Unlike most subjects, she doesn't run her fingers nervously through her hair, and she doesn't ask how she looks.

But she displays a certain savviness for her photo opportunity, perhaps rivaled on campus only by Harvard's Undergraduate Council-trained budding politicos.

Gearing up for the portrait, she crouches down and wraps her arm around her dog. Them she quickly changes her mind, dismissing the pose as being too "cute."

The photographer suggests taking a picture of her with the river in the background. "That shot's been done before by another magazine," Dunne casually mentions, before pleasantly assenting to the scene.


If she seems like a seasoned pro at this, it's because, well, she is. Hardly a newcomer to media attention, the list of organizations which have honored Dunne's achievements would seem more suited to a quarterback for a Big Ten football factory than an East Asian Studies concentrator at Harvard.

Local newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations have hounded her since her childhood. ESPN did a short documentary on her for a national cable audience. She was presented with a check at the 50-yard line during a New England Patriots game.

Why all the attention?

Think of what got Harvard and the rest of the nation so excited when Paul Wylie '91 excelled at February's Winter Olympic Games: a silver medal. Now magnify that by three--three silver medals, that is. And two bronzes, by the way.

A world class skier for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team since 1982, Dunne, who is blind, has amassed a remarkable list of accomplishments in her eight years of competition. When, at age 11, most current Harvard seniors were just coming into their own in Little League, Dunne won three silver medals in the 1982 world championship for disabled skiers.

Two years later in Austria, she took home a silver and two bronzes in her first Olympics. After a brief injury, she came back better than ever in 1988, taking away two silvers (the gold seemed within reach when she was ahead for one run, but the dream faded after she took a fall on the course).

Due to cancer, Dunne lost her vision at age five. Neither she nor those who know her like to focus on her visual impairment, but it is hard to avoid thinking about when contemplating the list of silvers and bronzes she's amassed--or the numerous other achievements she's had in the course of her life.

As she tells it, Dunne's decorated athletic career emerged from the confluence of two factors in her life: her visual impairment and her stepfather. Even at a young age, Dunne, a Chicago native, was restless for activity, and was a self-described tomboy. "My mother made sure that when I lost my sight I didn't stop that," she tells.

The commitment to maintain serious physical activity, of course, necessitated one important choice, namely what exactly that activity would be.

Sporting expertise in her family resided with her stepfather, Richard Zabelski, who had learned to ski while in the military during the Vietnam War. Zabelski encouraged his young the stepdaughter to take part in the sport, both as a way for her to channel her energy and as a way for him to overcome the barriers that tend to separate stepparents and stepchildren.