Adrenaline: Vanessa Ruck
Breaking barriers and redefining racing: Meet Vanessa Ruck, the fearless force on two and four wheels, who wants to inspire other women into this adrenaline-fuelled world
Vanessa Ruck is a fearless motorbike, dirt bike racer and four-wheel rally driver, who defies expectations and pushes boundaries in the world of racing. Vanessa’s path into the motorcycle industry was anything but conventional. It all began with a life-altering accident in 2014 when she was struck by a car while cycling. But undeterred by fear and determined to reclaim her sense of adventure, Vanessa embarked on a new path and delved into the world of motorbikes, embracing the rush of adrenaline and the thrill of pushing her limits. We chat to Vanessa about her resilience and unyielding determination that has led to amazing achievements and her mission to prove that women can succeed in this male-dominated sport.
Glorious: Your journey into motorbike and dirt bike racing happened almost by accident (literally) – tell us about this.
Vanessa Ruck: Yeah, absolutely. Most people look at the riding that I’m doing and think I’ve been riding since I was a small kid, but actually, I’ve got quite an unusual entry into the motorcycle industry which started with me being hit by a car while cycling back in 2014. At the time, I was only a cycle rider and didn’t own a motorbike, but that incident changed everything. I faced a seven-year recovery with seven surgeries that reconstructed my right shoulder and right hip. Physically, I was no longer able to do the extreme sports or activities that I once did, though the mental health recovery was considerably harder. The idea to get a motorcycle first came up when I was unable to cycle my commute anymore. It wasn’t an easy step because I had a diagnosed fear of the road, but I couldn’t let fear control my future. The following seven years can be best described as an escalation. I realised that I absolutely feel alive and filled with adrenaline when I’m on a motorcycle. But the sense of adventure evolved and it started with me getting my first off-road bike when I was bedbound from a surgery and to ride it became a goal and something to work towards. Later, I managed to ride it, and since then, I’ve been on a mission to grow, improve my riding, and prove to myself that I can push myself. Yes, I live with chronic pain, but I refuse to let it control me. I adapt, use painkillers, and practice mindfulness. Now I participate in some of the toughest races in the world.
Glorious: Have you always been an adrenaline seeker?
Vanessa Ruck: I grew up with a very active childhood. I was fortunate to have parents who didn’t treat me differently because I was a girl. I had an older brother and two older male cousins, and the four of us played together. I might be described as a bit tomboyish. Our holidays were always about going on adventures in Wales, doing activities like coasteering, paddleboarding, horse riding, mountain biking, kayaking, and climbing. When I went to university, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of extreme sports, including wakeboarding and kite surfing. And that’s when my passion really exploded. I get excited to try new things, enjoy them, and strive to get better and better. I think I’m addicted to those endorphins and the adrenaline of these sports. Many extreme sports are male-dominated, and a big part of my mission is to help other women realise that they can do it too.
Glorious: What is your favourite aspect of dirt bike racing? Is there a particular thrill or feeling that keeps you motivated?
Vanessa Ruck: I actually think my best moments are the hardest moments, the moments where you question why you’re there. When you’re in the desert, surrounded by sand dunes, hundreds of kilometres in every direction, with nothing but you and the navigation, you think, “How can I get out of this?” The only way is to fight. Those low moments, when you eventually make it to the finish line, are the biggest highs. By overcoming your fears and pushing your boundaries, you grow, and that growth fills me with so much energy. It’s an addictive feeling.
Glorious: How do you keep that adrenaline going? Is it by putting yourself in ridiculously challenging situations?
Vanessa Ruck: It’s important to remember that people often look at me and think I’m always energised and motivated, but that’s not true. I experience imposter syndrome and self-doubt. I have days when I wake up feeling tired and exhausted. However, I don’t let those things stop me and I find ways to work around them. When my confidence is low, I focus on preparation. If I’m not feeling ready for a speaking event, it’s because I haven’t done enough preparation. So I put in the work and go into it feeling more confident. The same goes for races. I assess what I need to improve and upskill to be ready for the start line. It’s about taking ownership, overcoming challenges, and becoming the best version of myself. I want to remind people that I have doubts and face mental health issues too. By being honest about my struggles, I hope to provide support and reassurance to others facing their own challenges.
Glorious: Are there any misconceptions or stereotypes about female dirt bike racers that you would like to address?
Vanessa Ruck: The most important misconception to address is the belief that girls can’t ride bikes as well as guys. While it may be slightly harder for females in certain situations or courses, it’s not impossible. I want people to realise that regardless of gender, background, or any other factor, riding is something we can all enjoy. The biggest challenge we face as female riders often comes from women. Some females get involved in the sport for the wrong reasons, such as wanting to look sexy or wear skimpy outfits. But riding motorcycles is dangerous, you’ve got to dress for the slide, not the ride. I wish that females, in general, and particularly in the realm of social media, can be more responsible and focused on credibility. The sex sells card really bugs me about the industry. It’s the same in many industries sadly, but I think the world is starting to move away from it. Look at the motorbike shows. Very few brands have sexy women laying themselves on bikes anymore, but it wasn’t that many years ago it was still a thing. Yes, we we are developing and waking up as an industry, but I just wish it was a bit faster. Gender is irrelevant when it comes to riding. What matters is genuine interest, dedication, and skill, whether you’re female or male.
Glorious: What are your specific achievements in your career that you are particularly proud of?
Vanessa Ruck: I have several achievements that I’m proud of. Earlier this year, in the Morocco Desert Challenge, a race over sand dunes in blistering temperatures hitting 52°C, I came 25th, which was a significant accomplishment. Last year I completed the Tunisia Desert Challenge, where I became the first female to enter and finish the race. Finishing the Red Bull Romaniacs race, a tough and male-dominated event with 500-600 riders, was another proud moment. Venturing into four-wheel rally driving with the Land Rover Bowler Defender rally car has been an exciting achievement. Being one of the few female drivers in the rally driving world motivates me to show that women can excel in this field. Lastly, my schools programme, where I have spoken to over 14,000 students, brings me immense pride.
Glorious: How does rally driving compare with dirt bike racing, and what do you prefer?
Vanessa Ruck: Rally driving is absolutely incredible. When you’re on a motorcycle, your life depends on putting the bike in the right place, avoiding obstacles like rocks. If you come off the bike, you’ll hit the ground somewhere, right? So you have to be highly aware of reading the terrain. In a rally car, however, I’ve had to adjust my reading of the terrain because the car can handle hitting a rock that would have caused an accident on a motorbike. That’s the major difference. But the adrenaline rush is still intense in a rally car. You’re driving a 2.3-ton vehicle with 300 horsepower, pushing it to the limit around corners, relying on your navigator’s instructions. Normally, when you see a turn, you slow down and assess the situation. In rally driving, you often go into blind corners based on your navigator’s guidance. You have to trust that your foot won’t leave the accelerator as you speed into the unknown. Your life is in the hands of the navigator, and their heart is in your hands because you control the car. The adrenaline rush is incredible, and the Bowler Motors experience programme is fantastic for anyone interested in rally driving. They train you in everything, from understanding the sign-on process to driving, navigation, and working with a navigator. It’s an incredible rally package experience.
Glorious: How do you prepare for your big races, for example across the Moroccan desert in 52-degree heat?
Vanessa Ruck: The preparation for races in extreme heat requires the right mental strength and physical fitness. In my next race, a 14-day, 6,500-kilometre race in January called the Africa Evo Race, closest to the original Dakar, I have to be at the top of my game. It’s the biggest race I’ve ever done, and being able to tackle the challenging terrain on a motorcycle for 14 days requires unbelievable fitness. Before reaching the starting line, there’s a lot of preparation involved, including ensuring the right nutrition, food, equipment, bikes, and gear. The mental focus is also crucial because there will be moments when it feels like the worst time of your life, but you have to keep going. In those moments, I remind myself that I’ve chosen to be there, and that gives me the strength to push through.
Glorious: How do you balance your passion for dirt bike racing with other aspects of your life, such as family?
Vanessa Ruck: Balancing my passion for dirt bike racing with my family life can be a bit challenging. I’m often on the road, and typically, I spend around one in three nights at home. However, my husband is my soulmate, and when we’re together, we have an incredible relationship and he supports me in all my craziness. People often ask me how I have so much energy and never seem to stop. It’s true that I’m always on the go, but when you’ve experienced a period of time where you’re confined to bed, the energy you gain from being able to move freely and make the most of every day is remarkable. I hope that by sharing my story, I can inspire others and give them the energy to appreciate the blessings in their lives without having to go through a similar hardship. Good sleep and proper nutrition are essential, as what we eat directly affects how our bodies feel. I avoid processed food because it makes me feel sluggish.
Glorious: So, what advice would you give to aspiring female dirt bike racers or rally drivers who are looking to get into the sport?
Vanessa Ruck: My advice would be not to be afraid of being a newbie. Leave your egos behind. Nobody cares whether you’re good, amazing, or still learning. What matters is that you’re out there, giving it a go, learning, and being enthusiastic. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s important to reassess. The sport is all about enjoyment and having fun, regardless of your skill level. So, let go of any worries about how you might look or what others might think. Every professional in the world was once a beginner, and we all know what it’s like to learn and grow. Even when you think you’re at the top, there’s always more to learn. Stay humble, keep absorbing knowledge from those around you, and continue to grow and improve.
Glorious: What are your goals and aspirations for the future in terms of your racing career?
Vanessa Ruck: I have some uncertainties regarding how long I’ll be able to push my body to these extreme limits. My health condition isn’t ideal, and I know that my physical abilities are deteriorating. However, I’m very excited about four-wheel racing because it is less taxing on my body. One of my bigger goals is to participate in endurance races like the Baja 1000. But my primary focus will always be using my story to inspire and energise people, providing them with the tools to overcome life’s challenges. As long as I can continue doing that and enjoy racing, I’ll keep going on this journey. If there comes a point where I can’t maintain the same level of energy, I’ll explore other opportunities. Ultimately, it’s about enjoying the journey and making a positive impact.