For eight gruelling days, she battled with the unforgiving Moroccan desert, setting an example for those who dare to defy societal norms and overcome physical limitations.
The Morocco Desert Challenge is no small feat. It is an extreme eight-day motorcycle race, covering a daily distance of up to 420km over arduous sand dunes. The heat, peaking at 52°C, is merciless, and the terrain is brutal. The challenges are so severe that a mere 40% of the motorcycle category riders complete the race. Vanessa, however, wasn’t among the ones to quit.
She rode through the heat, battling an upset stomach and severe hydration issues. She encountered two major crashes that triggered her life-saving air vest. She even fought an allergic reaction that almost cost her the race. Despite the odds, she prevailed, securing a commendable 25th position in her category.
Vanessa vividly recalls the harsh realities of the Moroccan desert, “It was scary. I knew I was racing others, but it felt more like I was fighting for my life. It was just me and my bike against the vast dunes and the unforgiving heat. The only way out was onwards. I had to dig deep mentally to fight to the finish.”
The event, unfortunately, wasn’t without tragedy. Two competitors lost their lives to the harsh conditions. Bram van der Wouden succumbed to heat and exhaustion, and Laurent Lichtleuchter met with a fatal vehicle crash. The perilous reality of desert racing was starkly evident.
One of the most challenging aspects of the race is the meticulous navigation. Competitors must follow a series of symbols, compass bearings, and distances on a road book attached to the handlebars. With physical exertion reaching its peak, the mental focus required to keep on track is intense. Vanessa’s resilience, honed through her recovery journey after a cycling accident in 2014, was put to the test.
Seven years ago, Vanessa mounted her first off-road bike, marking the beginning of her journey in the world of motorcycle racing. Through seven surgeries and a painful recovery process, she found her passion. Today, she challenges the status quo and defies the odds, becoming one of the few women braving the brutalities of extreme endurance races.
Her journey, however, is fraught with constant pain and struggle. On the fifth day of the race, an allergic reaction caused her face and eyes to swell, impairing her vision. Refusing to back down, she consumed antihistamines and soldiered on, eventually overcoming the initial difficulty and regaining her rhythm.
On the final day, Vanessa faced the most challenging and painful event of her career. A crash on the rocky tracks triggered her airbag and left her with an abdominal injury. Winded and in pain, she refused to let it stop her. Summoning all her strength, she pushed through the last 70km and made it to the finish line.
“Every bump felt excruciating, but I only had 70km to go! Just 10km at a time, I could make it. As I crested the penultimate dune, the finish line flags came into view and my heart leapt with joy! Everyone heard my screams of delight!” Vanessa recounts.
Vanessa’s 25th place in her class is an inspiration to both men and women. As she continues to defy the odds and break barriers, she’s also changing perceptions in the male-dominated industry. Her mission, she says, is to not let her chronic pain and past control her future.