“That’s something that I’m so proud of myself for; asking for help. I always emphasise to people that asking for help is a sign of strength”Vanessa Ruck – The Girl on a Bike
In a world of influencers and celebrity riders Vanessa Ruck, otherwise known as The Girl on a Bike, stands out, not only for her adventurous spirit and fearless approach to exploring the world on two wheels, but for an authenticity of voice. Ruck is a force of nature, that gleefully enjoys all things motorcycle, but her story is one of personal courage, of resilience and healing. Her love of motorbikes has been instrumental in finding her way back to health, physical and emotional, after a devastating accident.
As a young woman, thoroughly addicted to adventure sports and the outdoors, she was cycling home from work one day, when a car ran a red light and she collided with it.
“It changed everything for me, in so many aspects of my life,” says Vanessa. “It wasn’t just that I wasn’t able physically to do sports anymore, but as someone who was actively doing sports and participating in the lifestyle and friendship circles that surround it all, you very quickly realise who the real friends are, the ones who will come and sit beside your bed and play board games on a Saturday night. My social life changed dramatically. There’s a huge number of people that I haven’t even seen once since the accident, and they were people that I hung out with every weekend.”
“The impact with the car was like cycling into a brick wall,” Vanessa says. “My shoulder took the impact, and I landed on my hip. I wasn’t a bleeding mess or anything, in fact I got discharged from A&E that night with ‘bruising’. Considering I now have a reconstructed shoulder and right hip, you can say they got it wrong. A lot of things were missed and the body is incredibly complex. The big reconstructive shoulder surgery I had, was thirteen months after the accident. If I had had that same surgery a week after that accident, which is what I should have had, then my recovery would have been a whole lot quicker. I wouldn’t have had a year of my muscles wasting and adapting and going off balance. My arm was an inch longer than the other.”
Anyone who has experienced even a small injury, will be aware that the health implications go far beyond the physical. Somehow, the psychological and emotional implications of a body trauma are left untreated, in a system that prioritises physical recovery above all. Often though, it’s the deeper wounds that take longer to heal.
“I’m really honest when I tell people that my mental health recovery was harder than my physical recovery,” explains Vanessa. “I was diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders, depression, fear of the road, change disorder where I couldn’t see myself as me, I would talk about myself in the third person context. I couldn’t relate to or accept my own physical being as myself. I got to a point where I realised that I wasn’t OK. I was in a really dark place and I needed to ask for help.
Vanessa straight-up credits motorcycles for her healing in respect to her mental health. Somehow the idea came to her to get a bike out of the blue. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was exactly what she needed and she hasn’t looked back.
“I knew that if something scares you, the more you expose yourself to it, the more you get accustomed to it. So I just had to keep getting on the bike.”
“It was a Friday night and I was sat having a drink with my husband and a friend and they must have been talking about something really boring, because I completely switched off. At that time I was at one of the higher points of the rollercoaster, I describe my journey as a roller coaster of ups and downs. There were periods where I was bedbound, dependent on my husband to go to the toilet or put my socks on, then I started to get further through the rehabilitation, to a point where I could get on a motorcycle. Then there were complications and living with far more pain than I should be living with at 29 or 30 years old,
“I just came up with the idea that I should get a motorbike, even though I was struggling with a fear of the road, I had this genius idea. I was struggling with travelling, fuel costs, parking, using the car to get into work in central Oxford.
I found a Suzuki Bandit 600 on eBay, in my home town, that I went and bought the next day. It was fate, that bike was right there at the right time. I went and bought some bike kit on the Sunday, and then I had to ride the thing, that was definitely the hardest part. The first 200 times I got on that bike, it scared the life out of me. I remember having panic attacks, crying in my helmet, thinking I was going to die. Through mindfulness, I was able to take a bit of control, I knew that if something scares you, the more you expose yourself to it, the more you get accustomed to it. So I just had to keep getting on the bike.”
The love of two wheels took a grip of Vanessa and the mindfulness she was employing while riding her bike proved hugely effective in helping heal her trauma. But it gave her a new purpose too and before long, she made another snap decision to get a Harley.
“For our fourth wedding anniversary, I organised two Harleys for us for the day,” says Vanessa. Just to celebrate. And that was it. We went from zero intention, to ordering two Harleys in a week and it was by far the best decision I ever made for my mental health, I was in a place where I couldn’t see the point of very much. I wouldn’t take time off work to go on holiday because there was nothing I wanted to do. There was nothing fun in the world.
Suddenly this Harley made me realise that I could have adventure without being physically able. Only non-bikers would ask how I could ride a Harley with a gammy hip and a bad shoulder. It’s not like you steer the bike with your arms. I did modify the bike to have a better hip position though. Until this day it’s less painful being on that bike than it is being in a car. In two years we did about 25,000 miles around Europe, it became our thing. That’s what we do on holidays.”
Her natural enthusiasm, as well as her willingness to share her story, all sides, both the dark and the light, has seen Vanessa establish a broad following of fans. Her content is inspiring, not only a new generation of motorbike enthusiasts, but also women and girls, who are taking to the lifestyle in ever-increasing numbers.
“People say to me ‘oh, you’re so lucky, you have such an amazing life,” says Vanessa. “And I say ‘really? I’m lucky I was hit by a car?’ The reality is, I’ve worked extremely hard to get to where I am today. Most of my friends straight out tell me that they could never do what I do. I get to go on all these incredible trips, but I have to work so hard to be able to do it. But I do love it.”
Thank you Vanessa for sharing your inspiring journey with us here at the BMIC.
Keep up to date with the latest news from Vanessa and her adventures via her website by clicking on her banner below. You can also follow her across her multiple social media channels.