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Tunbridge Wells biker Vanessa Ruck first woman to enter deadly Tunisia Desert Challenge


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An avid biker has made history after she became the first woman to enter a gruelling motorcycle rally challenge which even claimed one competitor's life.

Vanessa Ruck shifted gears as she battled extreme temperatures, sand dunes, hills and mountains at the Tunisia Desert Challenge.

Vanessa Ruck in Tunisia (56605973)
Vanessa Ruck in Tunisia (56605973)

The 35-year-old, from Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, forged on through heatstroke to complete the eight-day endurance event which covered up to 469km every day.

At one point, Vanessa's heart rate reached 194 beats-per-minute as she twisted the throttle through 85kmh (53mph) winds.

The biker said: "It was brutal, I had to dig deeper than I ever had to."

Vanessa suffered bike issues which lead to a night in the dunes and another mechanical failure ending with a rescue helicopter being sent out.

This came after the third stage round through the El Borma dunes, described one driver who has completed the Dakar rally 10 times as "the hardest day of riding in their life".

Vanessa Ruck, from Tunbridge Wells, is the first woman rider to take part in the gruelling race
Vanessa Ruck, from Tunbridge Wells, is the first woman rider to take part in the gruelling race

Vanessa was faced with an electrical fault which saw her end just 6km from the end of 45km dunes; she was the furthest bike of 16 to be recovered.

She made a camp-fire and waited for help to arrive and was rescued during the night, keeping safe by ensuring she had various required items such as flares and emergency blankets.

Vanessa arrived back at the base at 3.30am and with just two-and-a-half hours sleep, she gritted her teeth to ride again after her Desert Rose team brought her Beta 480 R bike named 'Sandy' back to life.

The motorcycle lover who has raced in other prestigious rallies such as Red Bull Romaniacs and Rallye du Maroc said: "I just kept going, I kept pushing."

But Vanessa's bike malfunctioned again at 10.30am during the fourth stage and she resorted to surviving the extreme heat by taking water from other vehicles competing in the race in a different class.

Vanessa Ruck at the GQ car awards (56605983)
Vanessa Ruck at the GQ car awards (56605983)

Determined to not succumb to the 45C mid afternoon heat, she used her bike as protection from the sun's deadly UV rays and blistering heat.

She said: "I had water as thankfully passing cars, trucks and buggies gave me some, but by 5pm I was bad, I called for an emergency evacuation and when they saw me, they were clearly scared, I was terrified.

"I had been trying not to breathe in the hot sand but it felt like my head was going to explode.

"I was delirious and was put on a drip, one competitor sadly died due to the heat as they didn’t activate emergency support from the organisers, I’m glad I found the strength to hit the button."

In the end Vanessa beat the odds and placed 35 out of 55 in the race.

Vanessa had to be rescued from the desert after suffering a breakdown and heat exhaustion in the deadly desert conditions
Vanessa had to be rescued from the desert after suffering a breakdown and heat exhaustion in the deadly desert conditions

The race was a further display of Vanessa's resilience, in 2014 she was hit by a car resulting in seven operations and seven years worth of recovery, from which she still suffers "chronic pain".

In spite of a reconstructed right shoulder and right hip, it was this event which catapulted her into the world of two wheels, as she took to bikes as a way of supporting her mental health.

She acquired her first bike, a 600cc Suzuki Bandit during her recovery period and says she hasn't looked back since.

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