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ADV NewsAdventurer Copes With Life-Changing Accident By Racing Off-Road

Adventurer Copes With Life-Changing Accident By Racing Off-Road

 After years of painful recovery and surgeries, she found relief racing off-road.

Published on 02.28.2020

While riding offroad and taking up rally racing as an amateur is no miracle feat in itself, it is something that would have sounded far-fetched for British rider Vanessa Ruck not long ago. Having endured a horrific accident six years ago, Vanessa has been on a long and bumpy road to recovery. Six complex surgeries including shoulder and hip reconstruction, and years of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, would have taken a toll on anybody. For Vanessa, however, it’s all about pushing forward and challenging herself. The stubborn Brit is training to enter two of the largest European rally and hard enduro races, all while undergoing more surgeries and dealing with the lingering effects of her injuries. 

Life-Changing Accident 

In 2014, Vanessa was traveling on her bicycle from work when a car jumped a red light and hit her head on, leaving her with life-changing injuries. “I felt my body crumple as I shattered into the rear passenger panel,” she recalls. Vanessa suffered injuries throughout her body but her shoulder and hip took the worst of the impact, which resulted in her  having to take more than a year off work in total and going through several reconstructive surgeries. However, the effect wasn’t just physical.

off road racer Vanessa Ruck recovering from her accident

“Beyond the physical implications, I have also been on a roller coaster of emotions; my body has changed, my daily activities, my ability to do sports, my views on the world, views on life, recovery and even pain have changed. When people say ‘recovery’, you typically think of returning to how you were before the accident, before the illness or the life-changing event. But there is no going back. You do not merely recover, you reinvent yourself. You learn so much as you fight through, you find strength you never knew existed, you learn things about your body unbeknown before; it’s an irreversible journey. I am now a stronger and more determined person than ever before. I’m more grateful than ever for what I do have, more thankful for the wonderful things around me. I have a fire in my soul only this type of recovery could light,” she  says.

Unfortunately, Vanessa has had many complications that still linger to this day and four attempts to repair her hip have all failed. “I can’t walk far but who needs to walk when you can bike!?,” she says. 


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She began riding dirt bikes three years ago and, according to her, it was a natural transition. Vanessa had always been an adrenaline and outdoors fanatic, enjoying extreme sports like kitesurfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, and mountain biking. However, unable to go back to these sports, Vanessa took up motorcycling as it was completely new and initially something she could do without much physical demands – cruising on a Harley-Davidson. But the thirst for adrenaline quickly grew as her body recovered.

Vanessa Ruck riding extreme enduro

“The thing is, extreme sports are fun and adrenaline-filled, but a motorcycle also gives you a sense of adventure. And I chose dirt bikes because it’s something I can do now; with kitesurfing, I know I would always compare myself to the old me, to how I was before the accident. Whereas with dirt bikes, I can just start fresh, have a go at it, and see what happens,” Vanessa explains.

Dealing With Debilitating Pain

Although she is currently actively training and prepping for her upcoming rallies, Vanessa still has to deal with recurring bouts of pain.

“There is not a day that goes by where I’m not aware of the physical implications of the accident. From simple things like getting stuck in a tight jumper because my shoulder doesn’t function like it used to, to pushing on through pain picking up a 100kg motorcycle in the mud. In many cases pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop and rest, however once you’ve had significant injuries it’s possible that the pain just never really goes away. If I always listened to the pain and rested, I certainly wouldn’t be racing and competing,” Vanessa explains.

Adventurer Vanessa Ruck racing enduros

She says the most important thing is finding balance between pushing your limits and accepting them.

“Riding, especially in the harder terrain or longer endurance requires me to push through in a way those without a physical history don’t have to. It doesn’t make me want to stop and give up, but it does mean I need more energy, more drive and a bigger smile to make it through. If I gave up, I’d be letting one lady’s momentary lapse of judgement jumping a red light take my world away from me. That’s not an option. Plus I’m incredibly lucky to have a body able to push on again, it could have been so much worse,” she says.

Vanessa still has to carry painkillers with her everywhere she goes. Getting on a bike is different for her too: to avoid the hip pinch, she typically takes off standing on a peg, then swings a leg over. Cornering sitting down is still an issue: for Vanessa, slamming all the body weight down and forward and driving the inside leg out is still often painful. Course walking is no easy task either, as she generally starts to feel pain when standing or walking too long.

Vanessa Ruck training for rally races on trials bike

“But I think the biggest impact the underlying pain has on me is a sense of vulnerability. With the accident, I really know how much things can hurt. What it’s like to lose physical capabilities and not wish to go back to that. When my hip is being particularly grumpy I find my riding becomes somewhat timid, which is not ideal for hard enduros where a sense of aggression is definitely needed. I often find myself shouting pep talks at myself in my helmet, telling myself to ‘dig deep,’ ‘you’ve got this,’ ‘come on Vanessa,’ ‘you’re okay, keep going.’  I’ve become quite good and kicking myself in the bottom but my determination is vital to that. When I tell myself I’m going to do something, I will work so hard to make it happen. I’m also really lucky to have a wonderful husband who’s very good at helping me keep going….but at the same time he recognizes when I need to be pulled away, knowing when I need to stop,” Vanessa says.

Adventuring On

As her passion for motorcycling grew, Vanessa gradually set out on bigger and bigger adventures. Although dirt bikes are her main focus right now, Vanessa says she loves adventure motorcycles too. For her, adventure bikes add another layer to the riding: travel. A year ago, she rode Bolivia on a Triumph Tiger as part of an organized tour, and the memories were unforgettable.

Adventure rider Vanessa Ruck on KTM 990

“The big bikes offer a level of adventure and ability to cover the mileage that the small enduro bikes just can’t handle and I love it. Riding in Bolivia with Novo Adventures on the Tiger was incredible. In just two weeks we were able to explore so much of the country,” Vanessa remembers.

Road to Hellas and Romaniacs

Although Vanessa started riding three years ago, her total time on the dirt bike is perhaps twenty or so months as she has had to take breaks and go through more surgeries. Despite all of it, however, she is planning to race at the Hellas Rally Raid and Red Bull Romaniacs this year – simply to challenge and test herself.

“I think what I’m most intrigued about, when it comes to Hellas, is the endurance. It’s the classic Iron Man thing, it’s my version of doing a marathon. The physical and mental endurance component will be a huge achievement for me considering my health and everything. It’s a completely different ballgame, and I’m so excited!,” Vanessa says. “I’m just going for it. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is that I won’t cross the finish line. So what?”

To prepare for the Hellas Rally, Vanessa is doing hard enduro training, focusing on off-bike fitness, and figuring out roadbook navigation. She says she plans to ride conservatively because she can’t afford a high-speed crash with her reconstructed shoulder and hip. Still, Vanessa feels confident about giving it her best. According to her, trials riding boosted her skill foundation the most, and the rest is just dialing it all in.

“Romaniacs, on the other hand, is absolutely terrifying for me, it’s crazy, but at the same time, I can’t wait to do it. And I’m not there to win any of these races, I just want to show that normal people, even slightly reconstructed normal people like myself, can do these things. I hope that by pushing myself hard and sharing my journey, perhaps I’ll be able to inspire people to realize they can get out and ride, too.” 

For Vanessa, racing Hellas and Romaniacs is all about the challenge and the adrenaline, but more than that, it’s about sharing the inspiration. She is on a mission to prove that nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough – and she seems to be succeeding.

You can find Vanessa, The Girl On A Bike over on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and www.thegirlonabike.com.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte
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2 thoughts on “Adventurer Copes With Life-Changing Accident By Racing Off-Road

  1. Inspiring stories like this and Nicola Dutto iron man paraplegic, Kirsten Landman first African woman to finish Dakar after near death and major surgery, and the Joey Evans that broke his back learned to walk again took 10 years to achieve his lifelong dream to do the Dakar in 2017 which ended up yet another major challenge just watching it makes you motivated, and you question your own excuses for not reaching for a dream.

  2. Pingback: ADV Pulse: Adventurer Copes With Life-Changing Accident By Racing Off-Road » The Girl On A Bike