Written by Senta Scarborough
Photos above by Stellar Media
Sometimes the fiercest thing to do is pedal one foot in front of the other.
No one knows that better than Rebecca Rusch.
Whether you want to do some soul searching, explore a way to be healthy, take on a new adventure, or just want to relive your childhood's free-wheeling freedom in biking, Rusch Academy is a one-stop shop to do just that.
The online learning platform launched in July of 2022 and offers a free learning library, pay-as-you-go courses, and live webinars curated by and featuring its founder, Rebecca Rusch.
She is a fierce top-spot contender on the podium and a soul-searching champion on a mission to do and be good. She's raced in every sport imaginable along the toughest trails and won, again and again.
For Rusch, a bike is not just a method of transportation or a fun way to get around.
"It's a universal tool everyone understands no matter what country you go to or what age you are. You see someone on a bike and you're like, they're on the journey," she says.
Now, Rusch wants to share her experience with every level of outdoor enthusiast, bike rider, and adventure seeker. This digital platform aims to share her own decades of experience, as well as other knowledgeable experts, to help others explore cycling, backpacking and other endurance adventure sports.
"The goal is to have a place to share my experiences. Lots of people ask questions on Instagram like, 'What do you wear?' or 'What do you do?' or 'How do you train?' or 'What do you eat?' So it's really a place to harness a lot of that," Rusch says.
It's not her first time teaching; she has offered in-person academies, camps, and educational experiences before.
"The in-persons are great, but I want to reach more people. The pandemic showed us we can do community and connect online. So I want to make it accessible and inexpensive," Rusch says. "It's really about taking my experiences and sharing them with others."
For example, there's an online course for the gravel curious, Boost Your Gravel Game, featuring Rusch and her coach, Tim Cusick. The duo share helpful resources, including route maps, gear tips, and personal inspiration.
"It's like writing a book, taking what you know and putting it in a consumable place so others can get inspired and have the tools and education to go have their own adventures," Rusch says.
Rusch Academy not only offers self-paced courses people can take on their own time, it will also start offering live webinars with Rebecca.
"I'm going to add some live Q&A webinar events so people can tune in and really pick my brain because I get a lot of questions through social media. I haven't had a good format for that, and I always want to answer them all," she says.
The Road to Rusch Academy
Known as the "Queen of Pain," Rusch began her journey as an adventure and endurance sports racer. She holds seven world championships in running, hiking, rock climbing, cross country skiing, and whitewater rafting.
At 54, she's celebrating a new milestone: the tenth anniversary of Rebecca's Private Idaho (RPI)—a large-scale gravel event she created that has grown from 20-mile rides to a 40-stage race. Each year, RPI is held over Labor Day Weekend and nearly 1,500 riders and their families each year come to Sun Valley, Idaho, to experience the great outdoors on wheels.
Photo by Stellar Media
It's the annual fundraiser for her Be Good Foundation inspired by her father, who signed his letters "Be Good" while serving in the Vietnam War.
It all began in 2003 when Rusch went to Vietnam to compete in an adventure race. After the race, she and her mother toured the country.
"We hired a guide and went to the base where my dad was stationed in Da Nang. We went to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and walked through the tunnels. We did a history tour of the Vietnam War. It was the first time in my life that I asked her questions and wanted to know more about my dad," Rusch says.
She learned her father was killed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While there, they went to one of the Vietnam War battlefields, Khe Sahn.
"It was a particularly bloody, horrific place, and there's a beautiful coffee plantation. So we stood there, and the guide pointed across to Laos, and he said, 'Right over there is the Ho Chi Minh Trail.' I was like, 'Oh, really?' I mean, we've all heard of the trail, but I didn't actually know much about it. And that day in 2007, I took a picture," says Rusch. "I remember I saw the picture, and I was like, 'Someday I'm going to go to that trail."
At the time, Rusch hadn't even begun mountain biking and cycling.
"Ten years later, the idea surfaced, and that little seed crystallized. I wondered if I could ride the whole thing," she says. "I wondered if anyone had done it and how long it is. So I started researching."
In 2015, Rusch became the first person to ride the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail. She located the spot where her father's plane was shot down. The Emmy-award winning documentary, Blood Road, depicts her personal journey.
Photo by Steve Fassbinder
On that trek, she learned about unexploded ordnances still left in communities along the trail. Three years later, Rusch created the Be Good Foundation as a call to action to live with "purpose, explore with passion and create lasting change" and to enrich communities by using the bicycle as a catalyst for "healing, empowerment, and evolution."
"Bikes and endurance sports have been healing and empowering for me, and I felt my dad was sending me a message to pass that on," Rusch said. "I really felt like that was where I needed to start. I had no idea about the bombs and unexploded ordnances. The Be Good Foundation was launched with the initial project to help clear bombs along the Ho Chi Minh trail."
Each year, the Be Good Foundation chooses different beneficiaries in local, national, and global cycling communities.
For this year's RPI anniversary, Fierce Hazel is collaborating with Be Good to create co-branded pouches with a percentage of sales going back to fund new Be Good projects.
Nature and Nurture: Be and Do Good
Self-exploration, personal healing, purpose, and place all are connected in Rusch's mission for everyone to get outdoors.
It harkens back to childhood bike riding.
"I remember that sense of freedom. I can ride over to my friend's house and see what's on the next block and the next. I distinctly remember that as a kid. But then, of course, we all get cars, and we fall away from that," Rusch says.
She wants people to get back on their bikes, not just for fun or transportation.
"It's so much bigger than that. It's freedom. It is mobility for people all around the world. For many, they come to the bicycle as a recreational toy. But people who do endurance sports, especially endurance cycling, realize it's a gateway to more than recreation. It's about soul-searching and understanding cultures and building community on your group bike rides."
The Covid-19 pandemic reinforced her belief that everyone needs to get outdoors. Rusch Academy is a mission to give people the tools to do that.
"We saw the pandemic, people were forced to stay at home, and they're like, 'We need to do something for mental and physical wellness.' So many people gravitated outside," Rusch says. "But they didn't know what they were doing outside. I think it's a real opportunity for people to learn skills to get outside to appreciate nature."
Another goal is to not only help educate people to enjoy the outdoors but learn to protect and preserve nature too.
"It's a limited essential resource. The Native Americans and old cultures know the healing power of nature. My hope with Rusch Academy is to educate people so we can take care of the resource and also remind them we can go anywhere on a bike," Rusch says.
Photo by Corey Woosley
The beauty of biking, she says, is dirt roads are everywhere. You don't need to fly to go on a grand adventure because adventure is there waiting for you.
She also hopes Rusch Academy will help people find their own ways to be good to themselves and others.
"I have used Be Good as kind of a mantra. I feel strongly that where we are as a world has to start first with yourself; being good to yourself. That may be exercising or eating right, being kind to yourself or whatever it is. Once you've started there, it expands to your family to community and eventually globally," she says.
For Rusch, that means sometimes stopping and remembering the message herself.
"I go back and forth sometimes. I must focus on being good to myself before I can work on the foundation. We have to first start internally, and then we're strong enough to expand to other people around us," Rusch says. "It is sort of circling back all the time. It's like you start to do things, you get super involved, and you think, 'Oh, I'm going to do all these wonderful things.' And then, all of a sudden, you find yourself depleted, and it's like, 'Okay, now I've got to take care of myself.' You need to be an expert at figuring those things out because, if not, you can't really be an endurance performer."
It's a lesson emphasized when Rusch did the Blood Road film tour.
"I'm an expert on the trail, but not necessarily an expert in life," she says. "That was a big part of the Blood Road film tour. That did deplete me. I wasn't riding, and I was giving so much to share that film, connect with people, and hear their stories."
Eventually, she realized it was too much.
"I was cannibalizing myself, and there was a point where I said, 'This isn't what my dad meant. This isn't what he wanted for me.' Not that I didn't want to share the story. We finished the film tour, but it became really apparent that I had to circle back to myself for a while after that. You can't only just be good to other people if you're not doing it for yourself first."
Lately, she's doing just that. She's moved further out of town and immerses herself more in nature.
"It's a personal evolution and recognizing the importance for me of being in nature, being quiet and in a place where I can ride right outside my back door," she says.
Photo by Chris Burkard
But don't think Rebecca's let off the pedal. On the contrary, she's still pushing her limits.
She's taken on Iceland—riding a 327-mile trail with 25,600 vertical-foot climb across snowfields and glaciers. Rusch was the first cyclist to trek straight through the Arkansas High Country Trail, 1,041 miles in a record-making eight days, three hours, and 33 minutes.
"In my fifties, I've been doing the hardest bike expeditions of my life. And so I don't mind saying my age because I'm hopefully living proof that you can still do," Rusch says. "I've been doing a lot of winter bike expeditions. So I've been happy to know that I can still evolve. Hopefully, we always are."
Senta Scarborough is an award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated producer. She is the founder of Sentamatic Media focusing primarily on screenwriting, journalism and non-fiction projects. Her clients include KCET-SoCal PBS, Emory University, Stanford University, Fenning Marketing Group and Fierce Hazel. Her work has appeared in Adweek, Into, USA Today, E! News, US Weekly Magazine and Asheville Poetry Review, among others. She is a lifetime member of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist’s Association where she served as a board director for two terms. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert. Find her on social media @sentascar.
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