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Rusch To Glory excerpt: "The Beginnings of Adventure Racing"

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

While I am out in Arkansas for the Arkansas High Country Ride, I wanted to share with you a chapter of my book, Rusch To Glory. It's wild to recount my journey as an adventure athlete over the years. Take a sneak peak into how I came upon adventure cycling, and watch me live as I take on this new adventure here >>


Between rock climbing, outrigger canoeing, white-water rafting, and river boarding, I thought my sporting dance card was full, but it wasn’t long before I was whisked into my next activity, which would combine all the athletics I’d ever done, take me to places all around the world I’d never dreamed of visiting, and push me to new limits. 

While I was working at the gym, all these Lycra-clad adventure racers would come in and ask for rappelling lessons. I had no idea what sort of racing they were talking about; all I knew was that they didn’t fit in with the typical climbing crowd. They were not interested in the physical challenge and intellectual puzzle of climbing. They simply wanted to use the wall as a ladder so they could learn the mechanics of how to get back down. Trying to keep a straight face and an open mind, I would explain that nobody just rappels. That’s how you get down. The real joy is in the ascent, not the descent. But they had their minds set on rappelling because it is a required skill in adventure racing. I felt perfectly fine accepting their money for the instruction. 

Over time, I was able to look past the silly Lycra tights. I even converted a few adventure racers to climbers. I forged some really great friendships with many of these athletes, and as I exposed them to the climbing world, they solicited my expertise as a climbing instructor and rope safety rigger for some adventure racing training camps. I was happy for the extra work outside and got a glimpse into their sport. One of those friends was Cathy Sassin, a trainer and nutritional consultant at Gold’s Gym who had been pulled into adventure racing after winning a contest put on by Mark Burnett, the TV producer who was bringing Eco-Challenge to the United States. Shortly after winning, she came in to Rockreation to learn how to climb in preparation for a race in Borneo, and we hit it off.

In 1997, when Burnett contacted Cathy about needing experienced people to help lead the way at his 24-hour adventure race in Malibu, she decided that she was going to persuade me to race, even if she had to drag me kicking and screaming. My friend Andy Petranek still needed a female team member for his team, so he joined Cathy in convincing me. When they first asked, I laughed at them. I didn’t even own a bike, and 24 hours sounded like a long time to do anything, even sit on a couch. But from where they were standing, I’d been a runner and was now a climber and paddler, which loosely covered most of the adventure-racing disciplines. And they figured that anyone can pedal a bike. But the most persuasive argument was that they genuinely needed another woman in order to race. Adventure racing requires a four- or five-person team with at least one member of the opposite sex. So in this male-dominated sport, strong women are a hot commodity, even a woman who hadn’t ridden a bike in years and had never touched a mountain bike. 

Of course I succumbed to the peer pressure. Adventure racing sounded a little outrageous and very challenging, but what I really needed was something to motivate me over the winter months. In the summers, I climbed outdoors every week and was now racing outrigger canoes with an internationally renowned team. However, winters in the climbing gym were leaving me feeling out of shape and uninspired. I needed something new to feed my competitive nature until the climbing and paddling season rolled back around. So I agreed to give it a shot and went about confronting my weakest (okay, nonexistent) skill: the bike.


Want to take on your own adventure and push your limits side-by-side with me? Learn more and register for Rusch Academy's "Graveled Less Traveled" Camp from June 5-9 here >>

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