When a cycling accident threatened to derail the adventurous life she loved, Vanessa Ruck – aka The Girl on a Bike – refused to take it lying down. Instead, she handled things the only way she knows how. Brushing herself off, she put herself back together. And then she upped the ante.
Vanessa Ruck, from Monmouthshire, who started riding motorcycles following a mental and physical recovery, became the first woman to ever enter one of the toughest races in the world in April, and she’s just done it again.
Travelling across Europe to compete against others with the gumption to show up to a 1500 km off-road roadbook race in Croatia and Bosnia, the Monmouthshire based adventurer fought on despite the chronic hip pain she lives with from her past, battling days of up to 375km of gruelling off road terrain, to make the finish.
Competitors are navigating but also tackling the rugged and rocky terrain of the Dinaric Alps. The tricky navigation means following a series of symbols and pictures on a scrolling piece of paper mounted to the bars, called a road book. Road book navigation events, such as the infamous Paris Dakar, are far more than just riding. You have to navigate accurately, retaining mental and physical focus for upwards of 10-12 hours of racing, and do this off road day after day. Could you stay calm on your own in the middle of nowhere, digging deep into energy reserves with only the supplies you can carry?
With a 31% attrition rate from 123 riders at the start, simply finishing was an accomplishment. But Vanessa was fighting for more. She came 37th overall, 20th in her class, and 2nd fastest of the nine female riders. The terrain varied considerably across the 6 days, with hard jagged rocks bouncing the bike relentlessly, rolling grass meadows hiding hidden boulders, winding forest tracks with whipping branches, and the toughest of all…hard pack with loose stones. This inconsistent stony terrain was more akin to riding on ice, with the bike’s rubber tyres easily losing traction and sliding, an unnerving feeling for even an experienced rider. The longest day saw Vanessa enduring over 10 hours on the bike. Considering she prepared her first rally road notes just under a year ago and was a complete novice just 6 years ago, that’s an incredible finish!
Vanessa discovered the mental relief that the freedom of two wheels brings to life following her collision with a red-light-jumping-car. She was diagnosed with multiple mental heath disorders, including fear of the road, and has faced 7 traumatic surgeries to reconstruct her hip and shoulder. All as a result of a total stranger’s momentary lapse of judgment. We spoke with Vanessa and she joked that “If you had told me six or seven years ago that in a few years’ time and so many surgeries later, that I’d be racing motorbikes, I probably would have choked on my drink.”
Back in 2016, while being bedridden after another operation, Vanessa woke up one day to the idea of getting a dirt bike. It was five months until she could ride it, but determination and goal setting had her fixated. Months, years of rehabilitation, never giving up, a lot of mindfulness, certainly many bad days, and a huge handful of stubbornness saw Vanessa saddling up as soon as her body was able. Vanessa’s journey has not been smooth, with pain now a daily feature in her life but what she has learned is that it’s vital to never let your past control your future. “Yes, I’ll never fully escape my past, but I sure will find ways to adapt, to get rid of my own excuses and fight on. I’ll never run again, but hey, who needs to run when you have a motorcycle!”
Vanessa really is a force to be reckoned with. From bed bound to international racing in some of the toughest conditions, it really does prove that anything is possible if you put the work in! Learn, train, seek advice and set your goals. We can do incredible things!
Vanessa’s story is one of true resilience and utter determination so it’s no surprise to her social media followers that she smashed another international race! She describes herself as just a normal girl who faced one of life’s big curve balls. But after being hit by a car while cycling in 2014, resulting in 7 surgeries and a roller-coaster of mental and physical recovery spanning 7 years, taking on Croatia and Bosnia was no mean feat!