Legend has it Rebecca Rusch began her career when she joined the high school cross country team for a free track suit. Today, she’s one of the world’s top elite endurance athletes.
The three-time 24-hour solo mountain bike World Champion, three-time 24-hour team mountain biking national champion, current Master’s XC mountain biking World Champion and the 2011 National XC singlespeed champion took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with About.com. In this interview, Rusch muses about her mountain biking beginnings, being a role model for women athletes, and how she earned her nickname, the Queen of Pain.
About.com: What are your first memories of mountain biking?
Adventure racing was my first exposure to mountain biking. I learned to ride a mountain bike in the Santa Monica mountains and a bunch of guys taught me on a borrowed bike that was the wrong size for me. I didn’t like it for years. It scared me and I never really had any good instruction, but had to do it since it was part of adventure racing. It was my worst sport for these multi sport events.
It wasn’t until years later when I got a bike that fit me and started meeting other women who rode when I moved to Idaho. My first really positive riding experience was the 24 Hours of Moab on a team with a group of girlfriends. It was so supportive and such a different experience than trying to keep up with a bunch of guys. That’s when I turned the corner and started enjoying mountain biking and got really into it.
About.com: Why do you think it’s important for women to be involved in the sport of mountain biking?
I’ve been a runner, rock climber, paddler, adventure racer, now cyclist. What’s so great about mountain biking is the terrain that you can cover. The ability to explore and get to really far away places is what makes the bike unique for me. I also think it’s something that everyone can do for a very long time. Riding a bike is way more forgiving than running and there are always trails that are easy enough and challenging depending on what you want to do that day. It’s a great confidence boost and challenge too.
About.com: What is the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour?
I launched the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour in 2011 with the intention of growing women’s cycling! I saw a need for new women to learn from other women, to be encouraged to get involved, to meet the pros and get inspired. The SRAM Gold Rusch Tour is multi-faceted because no two events are the same. Some events are instructional ride clinics, some enable women’s media to get to events to cover them, some events highlight the female pros and give them exposure. The overall goal is to grow the women’s cycling community in many different ways by including women, getting them on bikes and having the pros share our experience.
About.com: Have you gotten any feedback from women who’ve attended your female-specific events?
Yes, the feedback has been amazing from women and girls of all ages. They love meeting the pros, having a non-intimidating bike experience and are so excited to learn and share experiences. We even get feedback from men who tell us how much their daughter, sister, wives are loving the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour events. I always leave these events totally inspired myself. It’s a great community building effort that has been super well received.
About.com: How does it feel to be a professional athlete and a role model for other women athletes?
I have a dream job. I never would have expected that this is how my career would have turned out. I did not dream of being a professional athlete or have a 5 or 10 year plan for that. The bottom line is that I kept following my passions and kept saying “yes” to exciting opportunities, and this is where I’ve ended up. I love that I’ve lived an adventurous life and been able to see the world, meet passionate athletes along the way and have been able to make a living doing it. The absolute best part is that my racing platform has enabled me to inspire others to get outside and go explore the world and push their limits. Racing and adventure sports have changed my life, so I am more than willing to share my experience and passion with other people out there. I did not plan to be a role model, but I’m honored that some people consider me one.
About.com: How do you deal with the physical and emotional stress of racing?
Just like anyone else, one pedal stroke, one breath, one moment at a time. Racing is stressful, but the harder the goal you set for yourself, the more you need to rise to the occasion and the more rewarding the outcome. I push myself on a regular basis because I like the person I find when I’m at my limit. Don’t get me wrong, I love a casual ride with friends and relaxing at home, but I also find real value in stepping out of my comfort zone frequently.
Regarding the physical stress, I take recovery seriously, take plenty of rest days, have a coach and really try to listen to my body when it says “enough”!
To tackle emotional stress, that’s when I go out on those casual rides with my boyfriend or girlfriends and take in the beauty of Idaho. The heart rate monitor and power meter stay at home on those days and I just ride my bike. These sort of rides are just as important to my physical and emotional health as the racing and hard training days.
About.com: How does one earn the nickname, the Queen of Pain?
Like most nicknames, you do not choose them yourself. I was dubbed the "Queen of Pain" by my adventure racing peers years ago on the cover of a magazine. I take it as a compliment and a statement on my ability to persevere and work hard.
About.com: Do you have advice for mountain bikers who are just getting started?
Get a bike that fits you!! I made the mistake of learning on a hand me down, ill-fitting bike and it clouded my enjoyment for a long time. Go to a bike shop and demo a great bike that fits you perfectly.
Find a group of friends or instructor to show you the ropes. It’s way more fun in a group and we all need a little instruction to fast track our skills.