Web Bike World: Interview with Vanessa Ruck, ‘The Girl on a Bike’
As seen in The Web Bike World: Vanessa Ruck – and she had just come out of the Tunisia Desert Challenge as the first woman to have ever competed in the competition (35th out of 55 bikes, no less).
What does a woman like Vanessa do after a french kiss with a car, seven surgeries, and one of the more extensive rehabilitation therapy schedules I’ve ever seen? She buys a motorbike and signs herself up for THE hardest style of riding known to our kind. I’m itching to pick her noodle about anything and everything, so let’s dive in.
The accident that changed everything for you; tell us what happened.
So I was cycling. I was on the way to the wakeboarding lake to meet my husband and some friends – just a really normal Tuesday.
Traffic lights turned green, I carried on peddling through, and a car coming the other way decided not to stop.
I went straight into the side of the car, and life, in that moment, changed very dramatically.
Just to be clear; I was not a bleeding, scraped up mess on the side of the road – nothing like that. Obviously I was shaken up – I’d just been hit by a car – but the insane bit is that I was discharged later that night with a diagnosis of bruising…just bruising!
Since then I’ve had one surgery per year, spread across seven years. So it was just a constant kick in the face of going backwards, and it didn’t get easier.
With reoccurring surgeries, every time you go back into surgery, it gets harder. The expectation is all wrong – you think you get the hang of recovering, and then the old tissue is dug into again and the mental battle gets worse and worse.
My mental health recovery has always been harder than the physical, and I’m very open about that. I started with multiple health disorders and it took a lot of processing time to heal…there were some really dark days, and that’s the side of things that are normally invisible – even little things, like overcoming the trauma of fear of the road after an incident like that.
Seven surgeries in as many years. An insane testimony, given what you do today – but what blows my mind is that you had to convince the medical industry that you had more than bruising…?
It was ridiculous, and yeah, it was incredibly hard – because they’re telling you to trust the medical profession, They were being so inaccurate, messing me around and I was constantly being put in situations where that trust was being misplaced – but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta trust them because they’re the professionals.
So I’d just been hit by a car and I was being told I’d be ‘back to normal, back on my feet, boom, no problem,’ maybe just have a little bit of rest at home.
As I listened to their advice, though, I realized the pain wasn’t changing – the swelling wasn’t going down. So, I went to see my GP again.
There’s totally an element of ‘the squeaky wheel gets fixed first’ to all this, and the shoulder was really the worst part (even though the hip ended up having five of the seven surgeries, it was dormant so wasn’t picked up at first).
The doctors’ answer to my pain was that I had ‘a little bit of a sore shoulder’ and I needed some steroid injections to get better.
Three steroid injections later, and nothing was improving; that’s when he said the next option was surgery, and he told me the procedure.
In the fine print, I was gonna lose at least 25% of my range.
I didn’t like this.
I saw another shoulder specialist – the second opinion. Before I’d even sat down, he asked me why I would refuse surgery – and I’m like, “I haven’t refused surgery.”
So yeah, loads of stuff like that.
That first incision was apparently ‘a little cleanup thing,’ which did jack all. Then after that, the second opinion did the right scans and actually looked at my shoulder properly – and that’s when my arm was diagnosed as ‘not attached to my shoulder’.
After 13 months? Insane.
My column collarbone was like 3mm up and 10mm back and you could bounce it around.
What’s been the biggest factor in getting your health back on track?
The biggest part…definitely mindfulness.
It goes a long way with fear, anxiety, even stress – and I really emphasize mindfulness in the UK school programs I do as a way to give back.
When I talk about mindfulness, loads of people think about, you know, sitting on the floor and humming with your hands folded, knees crossed, whatever.
I’m not the sort of person that’s gonna just sit on the floor and try and think of nothing. That method just won’t work for me, haha.
To me, mindfulness is all about the realization that we are in control of our thoughts and that we can have far more control of our conscious selves than I ever imagined could be possible.
By having control over ourselves, we also have more control over our subconscious thoughts – and our emotions are directly linked to our thoughts.
To recover from everything I’ve been through, I’ve kind of trained my thought process around my pain, to recognize the trigger thoughts that come into my mind
I’ll just go, “S***, my hip is really hurting right now,” and if I start with that as my initial thought and I let that thought stay in my mind, I spiral.
I’ll start to focus on the fact that it hurts so much, and it hurts again today, and it hurt yesterday, and why does it have to keep hurting, why does my body have to be so s***, I’m useless… It’s a freaking mind game, and now I’m upset and there was no benefit in me letting that thought stay.
If I catch these thoughts and I’m mindful, I’ll be like, “let’s focus on something else” – the birds singing, calling a friend, focusing on anything else.
Ultimately, spiraling clouds judgement and judgement affects emotions – and when you’re in a scary situation, you can actually quite often rationalize the situation and work it out.
Can you tell us a bit about those two days of being stranded?
Well I was in the thick of things and I realized it was half past five, and it was going to be dark in about 45 minutes – pitch black.
I was completely on my own, in the middle of the sand dunes, kilometers after kilometers from anything – so I went right into survival mode.
The bogeyman is totally real for me, so I knew was gonna be terrified alone like that; I got my survival kit out and I took extra electrolytes, all my vitamin D things to help me physically.. I also worked out exactly what was gonna help me, how long everything was gonna last, figuring I could have something now and something about 1:00 AM and then something in the early hours of the morning. It wasn’t enough to what my body needed based on the fact that I’d been riding 11 and a half hours, but at least everything could be timed out.
I spent about half an hour collecting firewood, making sure that I never let my bike go out sight – it’s crazy out there, you can get disoriented so quickly. I also took everything off, down to my base layers and let them air dry in that last 45 minutes of sunlight so that I didn’t go into the evening wet with sweat.
A little fire pit was dug later with my head torch around my neck – knowing there was no way it was gonna last all night – and I had laid everything out exactly where it needed to be and shielded my little area a bit with the sand.
In the last 10, 15 minutes of light, I got the fire lit and then I basically just sat there and tried to stay calm, loaded the mindfulness on – just freaking out about being on the desert my own, haha.
Oh, it was pitch black; I could hear things – there was nothing there, but in a state like that when you’re just on high alert it’s another ballgame – but I knew the fire, it was a comfort.
I focused on the fact that I had a fire and animals weren’t gonna come near me cause animals don’t like fires.
After a bit the wind started to pick up, which I found really scary, cause the sand is blowing everywhere and it’s incredibly loud. I put my earplugs back in so I could just try and stay calm by not hearing the wind. It helped me kind of process that.
The whole thing that night was pretty routine; just sort of lay there and try to snooze and have a little nap and then throw more wood on and have a little nap again, trying to focus on how noisy the fire was , etc.
Closing my eyes cuz helped me in processing the fears, trying to rationalize. And you know what?I was okay; I was nice and warm. I was safe. I had a fire and the organization know where I was. My bike sat there pinging every 30 seconds and I got picked up in the middle of the night ( which was awesome) by the sweeper truck.
And they got me back to the bivouac at 3:30 in the morning, my mechanics immediately jumping on my bike and me heading to bed until the bike was fixed two and a half hours later.
For the rest of the Web Bike World article see here.
If you’re new to my page – it’s more than just dirt bike riding, Harleys and racing, I’m on a mission to prove that nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough. See more about my story plus read about my life changing accident, which started it all.