Rusching Around the Trails: Interview with Rebecca Rusch

Red Bull sponsored mountain biker and founder of the Gold Rusch Tour, Rebecca Rusch took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her crazy life as a professional athlete.

Josh Campbell: What is it like to work with Red Bull?

Rebecca Rusch: One of the coolest things about them is that it’s a totally unique relationship. None of my other sponsors are like them. I’ve been with them 10 years now and early on, there was no contract, there was nothing, just a handshake. Now they have contracts but the difference with them is instead of a list of things that I need to do, they really keep it loose and encourage the athlete to do what they want to do, such as design cool projects that no one has ever done and to be different and do unique things. They really encourage you to do unique and fun things instead of being so focused on winning. They really push their athletes to think outside the box and they give me a lot of freedom to pick and choose. A great example of this is when I was adventure racing before I was a cyclist. When adventure racing began to die, I lost my main adventure racing sponsor because the company got bought out, and I had a meeting with Red Bull and I was like “Shit, my sport career is over, I have to get a different job.” And Red Bull just said well you have a year. Find something else. We’re not going to tell you what to do but we’re not going to take the money away or cancel the contract. So they just gave me the freedom and that’s how I launched and started cycling. If I hadn’t had that sort of cross over and the freedom to be who I wanted to be, I’d probably be working a regular job at this point. Another cool thing that Red Bull offers is their performance division, which is a whole other branch of the company that is all about providing athletes whatever resource they need so whether it’s nutrition testing or even brain testing. They’re so far beyond what a normal sponsor is doing with just giving you a paycheck and giving you some gear. They’re really trying to help their athletes become everything that they can. 

JC: How would you describe the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour?
RR: Basically it’s just a bunch of women’s and girl’s events that I put on. And I launched it because I was standing at the SRAM booth at Sea Otter as one of their athletes and there was this whole line of guys and I just needed a chain and I was kind of intimidated to go in and be like hey I need this and this for my bike. And I was standing there going “Man if I’m a pro athlete and I’m sponsored by them, but I’m still too intimidated to go in the door, how are other women feeling.” So I went to SRAM and I told them that we needed to change this and get more women riding and they asked me what I wanted to do and so I pitched this program to them about free clinics and rides and just open the doors and break down the barriers of equipment intimidation or being embarrassed to come talk to a pro. So I just basically got a bunch of pros together and we have rides and tech clinics to help break down the barriers and intimidation factors and get women involved. I love doing it. It’s a blast! And if you teach one woman to ride, they’ll get their friends riding and it’s just like a chain reaction. 

JC: I saw that your logo said “Queen of Pain,” what is that about?
RR: That’s my nickname!
JC: Where did that come from?
RR: That came from my adventure racing days. There was a magazine that put me on the cover and they put that name on the cover with it. They titled it “Rebecca Rusch, Adventure Racing’s Queen of Pain” and it just totally stuck. My peers gave it to me and I think it stems from the fact that I don’t quit and I do really long events. I just kind of had to accept it.

JC: What do you like to do when you’re not on your bike?
RR: I bought a new house about a year ago so my boyfriend and I are spending a lot of time doing the remodel and moving lumber around. So I don’t go to the gym anymore, I just move shit around my house. The house takes up a lot of my spare time and I’m also on the fire department here and the backcountry rescue team so I do a lot of that stuff when I can. 

JC: Have you seen the new RockShox RS-1 inverted fork?
RR: I don’t have one yet. I want one so bad! It looks super cool. I think it would be super good for endurance and what I do and I don’t know if that technology will move into more trail riding and other disciplines but it looks super cool. They used to have inverted forks a really long time ago and now it’s starting to go back to that. It makes sense and it’s weird that it took this long to make this change. 

JC: Who has been your biggest motivation for what you do?
RR: I’ve done so many sports and there have been people all along the way everyone from my high school cross country coach to Marla Streb who I met early on. There are tons of people like that. I got to meet Lindsey Vonn and I was super inspired by her. I think there are people everywhere who inspire me. That’s another cool thing about Red Bull, we meet so many athletes in different sports, and it doesn’t matter what sport they’re in, they all have the same quality of really wanting to be the best and working hard. So anytime I get a chance to meet any of those people, it’s pretty inspiring to me. 

JC: What exactly is Adventure Racing?
RR: It’s pretty gnarly, it makes mountain biking look super easy. Basically, adventure racing is a multi-day, multi-sport, team competition. So you travel in a team of 4 and the big elite races, would be like 1000 miles and they would be over a span of seven to ten days. You race nonstop and you have to stay together as a team and the clock never stops. So you basically end up not sleeping. They don’t tell you where to go so you have to navigate from point to point. You may be on foot and you get to a bike section and you change to bikes, you change to kayaks, you change to horses. In between the checkpoints, the teams can take whichever route they want. So there is a big logistical part of it where you ask yourself, “Do I climb this peak? Or is it faster to go around it?” So that was pretty cool because it was such a thinking and team-oriented sport and it involved everything. Then you add on top of it, you’re carrying what you need on your back, you’re not sleeping, and you’re going all through the night. It was pretty hard-core. So then when I went to 24-hour mountain bike races, I was like “This is short, are you kidding? One night? No big deal.” All these people ask me how do you stay up all night. And I’m just like, “Well, it’s only one night, it’s easy.” So I got into 24-hour mountain bike racing only because it was the longest thing I could find after doing adventure racing. I wasn’t the strongest rider but I had tons of endurance to where I can stay up all night. So those first races, I would get off my bike and run it down technical stuff. But I beat everyone including the guys because I could just go all night. 

JC: What is your favorite aspect of being a professional athlete?
RR: I would have to say the traveling and all of the places and things that I get to see. Whether it’s Borneo or Brazil or wherever. I’ve gotten to go to so many cool places that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go if I hadn’t had athletics as that vehicle for travel. 

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