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Interview: Rebecca Rusch, author of ‘Rusch to Glory’

The ultra-endurance legend recounts the tales of her ongoing career as one of the world's most accomplished athletes

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Rusch set the record on the Kokopelli trail, which traverses the desert between Fruita, Colorado, and Moab, Utah.
Rusch set the record on the Kokopelli trail, which traverses the desert between Fruita, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. Photo courtesy of Red Bull

There is perhaps no one who defines “jack-of-all-trades” better than Rebecca Rusch. For more than 20 years, Rusch has explored her physical ability full of determination, without relent. Her drive as an ultra-endurance athlete and one of the most successful endurance mountain bikers in the world has brought her to success in just about every kind of adventure sport imaginable.

Her compelling story of disappointment, heartbreak, and resilience is recounted in her book, “Rusch to Glory: Adventure, Risk & Triumph on the Path Less Travelled.” The tales of her epic adventures and constant drive to succeed are overwhelming as she recalls her illustrious career and resilient spirit.

VeloNews: What was your inspiration behind gathering all of your experiences into your book?
Rebecca Rusch: Well, for years, people have been telling me, ‘You should write a book, you should write a book!’ But I was always just like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to write a book, no one wants to read about me …’ That said, I had been blogging for a while and sharing my stories that way, but it wasn’t until VeloPress approached me about writing a book. So it really just sort of landed in my lap. Selene [Yeager] and I had chatted about it a few years earlier, so it had been tossed around for a little bit, but it wasn’t until VeloPress asked me, and I started thinking that it was either now or never.

My goal all along though, and my inspiration for it, was hopefully to provide inspirational storytelling for other people. I wasn’t just trying to tell my story because I wanted to tell my story. People had been asking me to tell it for a while, and I figured that if I can tell people about what I’ve done, then maybe they will get off the couch and become inspired to have their own adventures.

VN: The book follows a common theme of perseverance and resilience. How important have these traits been to you along the way and from the beginning?
RR: In the process of looking back at all I have done, I see that common theme everywhere. But I don’t think that a lot of us looked back at our lives all that often — we were always focused on the next race or adventure.

Going back now and categorizing everything I’ve done was actually a really cool process though. I was able to reexamine what everyone was telling me I had done when they said, ‘you persevered, you did this, you did that.’ And I took me a while to realize that I did do all of those things!

The pattern that I’ve really seen with writing this book is that I just followed my passion. I mean, I quit my job to live in my car. … It didn’t make sense, but it was something I wanted to do, whether it was rock climbing or whatever.

The same goes with the extension of my cycling career. I didn’t like cycling, I actually hated it. But I didn’t want to get a regular job, so I figured that I would hold onto it a little bit longer …

But really, all of these things have come into place not because I’m a genetic masterpiece, it’s more that I just made choices about things that excited me and did things that I thought were cool, and everything turned out that way simply because of hard work and the path that I took to follow my passion. I had no idea all those years ago that I’d be where I am now, but I just went with the flow of the water in the river.

VN: Was there ever a point early on — or at any time in your career — when you had some uncertainty or doubt about what you were doing?
RR: Yeah, all of the time. The life of a professional athlete during the winter or during sponsorship renewal time is not an easy or predictable lifestyle. I mean, even the days when it’s raining and I have a gnarly workout on the agenda … It’s not all roses, trophies and podiums. There is a ton of self-doubt and questioning of what I’m doing. I’ve spent birthdays sleeping in my car in front of a gas station at rest stop along the highway, but I’ve also had birthdays on top of El Capitan.

I think everyone kind of has ups and downs, but the overriding sacrifices and self-doubts can come with a decent payoff at times. So you just have to keep pushing through to whatever your ultimate goal is in the end.

VN: Obviously, your career has been all about adventure and doing things that most people would consider crazy. When was it that you discovered your constant desire to try new things and to be adventurous?
RR: I knew right away, ever since I was a kid. I hated running track, but loved cross-country. I hated the monotony of turning left all the time on the track, but cross-country races were so much more exciting, I didn’t know what the course looked like or what was around the next corner.

I also was always really into camping or sleeping in the backyard when I was young. So I’ve always trended toward that kind of wanderlust, and it’s always been that way, and it obviously manifested, but I’ve really always had this sense of adventure and willingness to explore.

And you know, people have always asked why I didn’t train to be an Olympic runner or something. Sure it would’ve been cool, and I could have made more money doing that, but I’ve always been more interested in trying new things all the time. I don’t think of myself as an exceptional athlete, so I don’t think that would’ve made that much sense for me to follow that path, not to mention it didn’t inspire me.

VN: You mention in the book that you don’t see yourself slowing down as time goes on — rather, you’re improving with age. What does 2015 and beyond look like for you?
RR: I’m definitely trending toward mixing my adventure experience with my mountain biking. Recently, I’ve done a couple bike-packing excursions, and I have my eye on Iditabike and the Colorado Trail Race. I think that is the next iteration of my experiences and putting together my experiences with the map, route finding, and exploration. So I’m really leaning toward those kinds of things for right now.