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Rebecca Rusch: ‘The Queen of Pain’ endurance athlete is reaching her ultimate peak

Despite passing energetic volcanoes and treading close to arctic tundras, Rusch says the prospect of braving beneath freezing temperatures was what captivated her.

“I used to be actually scared of the setting,” she tells CNN Sport. “The chilly was actually the final frontier for me.”

Before setting her sights on pristine landscapes, Rusch has recollections of working by means of the woods in Chicago’s sprawling suburbia. “There was at all times this explorer curiosity facet to what I used to be doing, whilst a baby,” she says. “I used to be born with that.”

Her first entry into endurance sports activities was by means of her highschool cross-country staff. “I felt like I actually belonged someplace for the primary time.”

She constructed up her confidence and later moved out west, combining her enterprise advertising diploma with her love of indoor sports activities to open a sequence of mountain climbing gyms in California.

At the age of 52, Rusch has cemented her legacy as an adventure athlete, seven-time world champion, best-selling author, activist and Emmy winner.
In the Nineties, she found journey racing, a fringe endeavor that grew in popularity with the delivery of Eco-Challenge. Produced by Mark Burnett of Apprentice and Survivor fame, the truth TV present adopted athletes who raced throughout 300 mile programs in harsh terrains from Fiji to Maine to Morocco, through which Rusch was a participant.

“I by no means thought I might be an expert athlete, it wasn’t in my profession plan,” she says. “I used to be simply doing one thing that made me really feel entire and impressed me.”

A twist of destiny

When the present went off-air in 2002, the game of journey racing misplaced sponsorship and funding.

Rusch’s profession as an expert athlete was in flux. She ultimately made the choice to maneuver to Idaho and received a part-time job as a volunteer firefighter, one thing she nonetheless does to this present day.

But her journey was removed from over.

Rusch attends the 36th Annual Salute to Women In Sports at Cipriani Wall Street in October 2015 in New York City.
A buddy advisable she take up mountain biking, and Rusch went on to win multiple events together with three 24-hour solo mountain bike World Championships, Idaho’s Short Track state championship and a state Cyclocross title.

Nearly 15 years later, she’s simply as dedicated to her sense of journey. “Being an ultra-endurance athlete? It is my life.”

Blood Road

In 2015, Rusch took her pursuit of self-discovery to a brand new stage when she got down to journey 1,200 miles throughout the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Infamously dubbed “Blood Road,” the pathway was utilized by Vietnamese troops to shuttle provides during the Vietnam War — an occasion Rusch and her household are all too acquainted with.
On March 7, 1972, her father — Stephen Rusch — was flying a strike mission over Laos to bomb vans when his aircraft was shot down within the village of Ta Oy. He died when Rebecca was three years previous.

“Growing up, it was exhausting to mourn for any person that I did not know,” she says. “It actually wasn’t till I rode the Ho Chi Minh Trail and went to the place that he died that I felt him for the primary time.”

Since then, she’s inherited recollections of her father from assembly individuals who knew of him, together with the son of the person who buried her father all these years in the past. “We had been extraordinarily bonded,” she says.

In 1972, Rusch's father died in the Vietnam War. She honors his legacy through the Be Good Foundation, using her bicycle as a catalyst for healing, empowerment and evolution.

Rusch additionally cast an in depth relationship with her Vietnamese driving accomplice Huyen Nguyen, a embellished cross-country bike owner whose father was dealing with American resistance throughout the struggle.

“We did not want language to speak,” she says. “The two of us got here collectively to heal and to forgive, and utilizing the bike as that software was a very particular journey.”

Now, Rusch commemorates her father by means of the Be Good Foundation, a humanitarian group named in reminiscence of his wartime letters, which he would signal with the phrase “be good.”

She makes use of the inspiration to create alternatives for outside exploration, private discovery and humanitarian service at native, nationwide and international ranges.

“I distinctly really feel that he introduced me to permit us on that journey … to indicate me that I may use my bicycle for greater than podiums and awards,” she says. “I do really feel like he is educating me, he is fathering me, despite the fact that he isn’t bodily sitting right here with me proper now.”

‘No one will ever know what we skilled’

From driving in Vietnam with Nguyen to ploughing by means of Iceland alongside nature photographer Chris Burkard and former skilled bike owner and filmmaker Angus Morton, Rusch is used to working with fellow athletes to maximise her potential.

“I discover in groups, typically your actions, as a substitute of phrases […] are probably the most highly effective instruments.”

She solely had two weeks to get better between her win at Alaska’s 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational within the self-supported class and the Iceland expedition. With little contact with Burkard and Morton earlier than assembly them on the airport, Rusch was nervous.
Rusch preparing a meal with her Iceland expedition partners Angus Morton (center) and Chris Burkard (left).

“I knew the place they had been coming from as individuals, what I did not know is how they’d reply in moments of stress.”

Ultimately, their shared recollections of triumph will outlive their moments of disaster. “No one will ever know what we skilled in crossing Iceland in winter, aside from Chris and Angus and myself,” she says. “No image may truly inform all of the story.”

A lifetime of preparation

Rusch is residing proof that midlife is usually a time when a lady can hit her stride.

She might have been carrying an amethyst as her fortunate allure in Iceland, however she acknowledges that efficiently finishing “one of the best performances” of her profession finally requires years of bodily resilience and emotional intelligence.

“You’re not deteriorating as you become older, you are truly rising,” she says. “Alaska and Iceland could not have occurred with out many years of expertise in realizing myself, realizing my physique.”

Rusch's Iceland trek involved a 90% snow and ice covered route.
Perhaps Rusch’s means to place her physique by means of excruciating bodily challenges and emerge a stronger athlete is why Adventure Sports journal dubbed her the “Queen of Pain” in 2004.

“It’s doing one thing exhausting with a aim that you do not know what the reward is on the opposite facet of it, however but you continue to preserve going.”

‘We share this earth collectively’

Taking half in grueling expeditions and spending time away from house requires steadiness.

Having met on a motorcycle journey in Idaho and been an endurance athlete his complete life, Rusch’s husband, Greg Martin, understands the tasks that include her profession. “We do so much of these adventures collectively, however it is a dedication to be away,” she says.

Over the previous 12 months, she’s had the chance to re-evaluate her relationship with nature. “I’ve actually, actually understood the significance of me having my toes on the dust, on the bottom.”

In May 2020, 36% of individuals responding to the People and Nature Survey by Natural England stated they had been spending more time outside throughout the pandemic than earlier than. An analogous report discovered that almost a 3rd of Americans had been contemplating transferring to less populated areas, in keeping with a Harris Poll survey.

“Nature is remedy for individuals,” she says. “Part of my duty is exhibiting individuals these stunning locations in hopes that they fall in love and perceive the significance of defending them.”

“The one factor all of us share in all the world is that we stand on the bottom […] and we share this earth collectively.”

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