No Limits! Life Lessons from Rebecca Rusch

What’s that thing that makes your palms sweaty, that scares you a little bit? Something in your fitness routine, your job, your relationship?

Rebecca Rusch, epic adventurer and professional endurance athlete, says embrace the scariness as part of life’s journey toward self-knowledge and personal growth. At a party to celebrate publication of her new book, Rusch to Glory, the author encouraged her audience at T2 Multisport in New York City to push beyond fears and negative self-talk to focus on getting what they truly want out of life.

The journey is the prize. Coming out the other side is what I live for. ~ Rebecca Rusch

Rusch is a woman who knows a thing or two about setting a course and exceeding expectations. Dubbed “The Queen of Pain” by fellow athletes, Rusch won national and world titles in white-water rafting, adventurer racing, orienteering and cross-country skiing before distinguishing herself on two wheels. When sponsorship for adventure racing gave way, she shifted gears at age 38 and took up extreme mountain bike racing.  Rusch promptly notched four wins in the Leadville Trail 100, among many other race victories. Today, at 48, she’s still beating the bike shorts off competitors well her junior, while helping encourage more women to hit the trails on mountain bikes.

“I’m living proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, to do something new,” she proclaims.

Jaw-droppers like shooting the length of the Grand Canyon on a river board (picture a 4-foot boogie board with handles, then envision the rapids — in winter) and crushing the female time record for riding the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail have presented challenges aplenty. Still, in a lifetime of digging deeper than might be imaginable for most, Rusch says writing a book was the hardest thing she has ever done. Fortunately, she was joined by fellow athlete and friend Selene Yeager, who has written books on bicycling fitness and is a long-time contributor to Bicycling Magazine as Fit Chick.

Selene Yeager (left) and Rebecca Rusch at T2 in NYC. Photo: Jeanne Meyer

In the introduction to Rusch to Glory, the author says her first impulse was to write a motivational book. But she sensibly focuses on story-telling, letting her remarkable adventures and achievements, and the confrontation of some personal demons along the way, do the talking. It’s not just about being a professional athlete, but about a being human and having the courage to find out what you’re made of and how far you can push yourself.  Rusch’s path, which has enabled her to shape life on her own terms, is one from which anyone can gain insight and inspiration.

Where to begin? At the book-signing Rusch shared what she calls “Reba’s Rules for Success.” I’ve excerpted some of my favorites below. Additionally, you can read the whole series.

Forget limits. “Your limits are things you put in your head,” says Rusch. “They are arbitrary numbers and don’t mean anything.” But set goals, she says. They keep you honest.

Stack up your moments. Reaching the finish line is a series of a million little moments that add up to the day’s performance, Rusch says. Being attentive to how the positive and negative moments stack up can help tip the odds in your favor.

Pay attention to the space in-between. Seek out every strategic advantage. Rusch says she looks for moments of complacency in the competition, and then turns on the gas to go harder and gain an edge.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be nice. Simply put, anger wastes energy. “Getting pissed off burns calories that you’ll need later,” Rusch says. Being nice and letting the small stuff roll of your back costs nothing but pays dividends.

Write your own script .“You have the opportunity to change the text, and do what you want to do,” the author says.

One extreme example? The expense of Rusch’s initial commitment to training for adventure racing, which involves running, biking, climbing and rowing and carries hefty race-entry fees and travel expenses, left no money for rent. So, she lived out of her car for a while, “eating ramen and mooching from friends” to pursue her goals.

“It’s a lot about positive thinking,” Rusch says. “We have more negative scripts in our heads than positive ones. Change the conversation from I can’t to I can.”

There are no shortcuts. No way around it. Hard work – the crunches in the gym, the hours of pedaling on the trail, the skills hones on the mountain face — is what will help you succeed.

Most important of all, says Rusch, is to enjoy life’s ride. “Look around, breath the air, feel the sweat on your back, and smile.”

Especially if your palms are clammy.

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