Rebecca Rusch

Rebecca Rusch enjoys a relatively dry stop in Arkansas in May. She became the first cyclist to complete the outer loop of the 1,041-mile Arkansas High Country Trail. She cycled from May 7-16 and finished in 8 days, 3 hours, 33 minutes.

The ability to amaze, inspire and endure is notable among this year’s Best Local Athletes chosen in Best of the Valley.

    When it comes to talent and future promise, first-place winner Chase Josey, of Hailey and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, carries a technical bag of tricks that amazes his followers.

    Quietly consistent, Josey’s knack of showing the crowd something new and excelling at crunch time makes him the gold medalist in the voting.

    The 24-year-old Sun Valley Community School graduate leads the 2019 U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association snowboard halfpipe team and has already been the top American rider on the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup.

    And he’s been a U.S. Olympian, in South Korea in 2018.

    This year’s bronze medalist, Marianna “Muffy” Davis, 46, has inspired people with her resiliency for 30 years—since she was paralyzed in a Baldy ski accident at age 16.

    As a teenager, Davis wrote, “I am about success through determination. I am here to live the best I can and, through that, lead others into the best they can be.” And that’s how she has lived her entire life.

    A Wood River High School and 1995 Stanford University graduate after her 1989 accident, Davis became a seven-time Paralympic Games medalist in two sports—alpine skiing and hand-cycling.

    Her first Paralympic medal was bronze, in alpine skiing at Nagano, Japan, in 1998. She added Paralympic silvers in downhill, super giant slalom and giant slalom mono-skiing at Snowbasin, Utah, in 2002.

    Davis became the first female paraplegic mountaineer to reach a summit over 14,000 feet when she and three other paraplegics used arm-powered snow pods to climb 14,162-foot Mount Shasta in California in 2002. That was the same year Sun Valley Resort renamed its Southern Comfort ski run on Baldy to Muffy’s Medals.

    Davis was named to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 2010 along with Sun Valley owner Earl Holding—the man who endorsed renaming the Seattle Ridge run in her honor.

    She is married, a mother, a sought-after motivational speaker and, since November 2018, a first-term District 26 elected member of the Idaho House of Representatives.

Rusch gets wet in Arkansas

    That brings us to the silver medalist, and the recipient reminds us of another attribute common to our most revered athletes—the ability to endure.

    Ketchum’s Rebecca Rusch, 50, has the staying power. The professional cyclist is a world-class endurance athlete who has said, “Endurance sports aren’t glory sports. But I get a lot more out of it than money.”

    During May, she got sopping wet. Riding a bike in Arkansas. Just the kind of place that Ketchum firefighter Rusch enjoys visiting to put another stamp on a well-used passport.

    Rusch, saying she was a wet, soggy mess for much of her ride, became the first cyclist to complete the outer loop of the brand-new 1,041-mile Arkansas High Country Trail. She cycled from May 7-16 and finished the Little Rock round trip in 8 days, 3 hours, 33 minutes.

    Essentially, she test-drove the remote trail in a self-supported “bike packing” tour, depending on what she called “trail angels” along the way and taking her lodging when and where she could find it.

    “The services were rare, but the hospitality of Arkansans was amazing,” said Rusch, who put more than 107 hours on her bike, burned more than 37,000 calories on the trip and climbed 84,373 feet.

    All alone except for listening to audio books like “True Grit,” Rusch pushed through hilly, unforgiving terrain and days of heavy rain.

    “The weather has been absolutely awful,” she said with a laugh in a Bentonville radio interview. “In a torrential downpour every day.”

    Her gravel bike weighed 20 pounds without the gear, and 31 pounds with the bare minimum gear in frame bags fastened to the bike. She didn’t carry camping gear. She cycled 10 to 14 hours a day, putting 100 to 150 miles a day on the bike, depending on where she bunked out.

    “Nobody’s going to come get you when you’re out there, so you keep going,” she said. “My body just got used to what I was asking it to do every day. It got into the rhythm of Arkansas. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard. It felt pretty good. I’m happy.”

    She said it was the longest ride of her career, but she was never bored.

    “It was so beautiful with so much to look at,” she said. “The trail they built here is world-class. I’m the first to complete the trail, but definitely not the last. Arkansas better get ready for some cycling.”

    An ardent advocate of the importance of public lands, Rusch was eager to showcase the state of Arkansas’ commitment to providing athletic opportunities on public lands.

    “I feel strongly about public lands,” she said.

    She used the ride to boost her new Be Good Foundation, which aims to create opportunities for personal discovery, outdoor exploration and access to public lands through cycling and other outdoor endeavors.

    Be Good is named for the words Rebecca’s father, Stephen Rusch, wrote at the close of each letter he sent home from his military service to his wife and daughters. An Air Force F-4 pilot, he was shot down and killed in combat over Vietnam in 1972.

    About her reception in Arkansas, Rebecca said, “There is something about the bike that people understand. They understand you are committed, you’re out in the open air, it’s human powered and you feel the area. It’s a welcoming thing for both sides in that way.

    “I’ve always been an adventurer, even when I was a kid. The bike is a perfect tool to travel and see the world, and see what’s over the next hill. I still have the childlike curiosity and imagination. I like pushing human endurance and what the body is capable of doing. It’s mind exploration, too.”

    Rusch wasn’t always so keen about mountain biking. Until 13 years ago, she said it was the least favorite of the things she did when she was busy with adventure racing—her preoccupation when she first came to Ketchum in 2001.

    She had lots of athletic preoccupations. But Rusch didn’t find a place to flourish until she arrived in Ketchum 18 years ago in her 1975 Bronco after roaming the West for six years. Here, she found a town full of endurance athletes, with easy access to training spots.

    Hailing from Illinois, where she competed for a state championship cross-country running team at Downers Grove North High School, Rusch managed rock-climbing gyms in Southern California and also became a member of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team. Still searching and living out of her Bronco with keys to four different houses of friends in resort areas, Rusch gravitated to the Eco-Challenge series of adventure races. She was the only woman on the U.S. team winning the 12th Raid Gauloises, a 513-mile adventure race in central Asia, back in 2003. She was a national champion in orienteering, as well.

    By 2006, Rusch had learned from multi-day racing that her ability to absorb punishment, shrug off sleep deprivation and still maintain keen organizational skills—no down time, that is—were perfect for her new obsession with 24-hour solo mountain bike races.

    The rest is derailleur history for a cyclist who has become a seven-time world champion on the bike. Last June 1-2, for example, Rusch rode away victorious at the inaugural Dirty Kanza Extra Large (XL) 350-mile bicycle race near Emporia, Kansas.

Rusch was the first female finisher with a time of 28 hours, 27 minutes and 2 seconds. She finished fourth overall in the by-invitation-only 350-mile field of only 34 cyclists.

She first competed in the 200-mile Dirty Kanza seven years ago. It ignited a passion for gravel riding that led to Rusch’s starting her Rebecca’s Private Idaho, now held over Labor Day weekend in the Ketchum area. This year’s event is set for Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.

    Last year, the sixth annual Rebecca’s Private Idaho attracted nearly 800 holiday mountain bikers, a new record for Rusch’s backcountry trail ride through the Pioneer Mountains. She has become a pied piper for cycling.

    She calls it “the Gravel Less Traveled.” In March of 2018, Outside magazine heralded “RPI” as one of the “25 Best Bike Rides in the World Right Now,” and that included trips in France, Italy, New Zealand, Ecuador and South Africa.

    On top of that, Rusch was planning to return from competing in this year’s Dirty Kanza and be the guiding force for her Rusch Academy from June 5-9 headquartered at Wild Horse Creek Ranch in the Pioneers.

    Designed to sharpen the physical and mental edges of participants, Rusch Academy offers four days of fully supported backcountry bike rides plus daily education classes and wellness sessions. Daily rides range from 20 to 75 miles, with plenty of elevation gain in different ability groups.

    In many respects, she views cycling and her Be Good Foundation as vehicles to get more people on bikes and protect public lands in the U.S.—using cycling for social change and for changing our communities.

    Her friend and training partner Karoline Droege, of Ketchum, has said about Rusch, “Motivationally, she has given me perspective about how far it’s possible to push myself.

    “Now, when I’m taking a long mountain bike ride and my back starts to hurt and feel uncomfortable, I’ve learned to suck it up a little. She has taught me how to approach a race, but she’s super-motivating just as a person.”

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