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Some of you may remember your parents telling you to “be good” when you left home to go somewhere such as school or church. You might even recall your grandparents saying this to your parents as adults. For many Americans, “be good” was a common parting phrase that was said along with “I love you” or “be safe.” In the eyes of the message giver, you never know when the next time you say it may be the last.
For Rebecca Rusch, it’s more than a phrase, it’s a principle of her life because it was passed down to her by her late father, Capt. Stephen A. Rusch, who was serving in Vietnam when he was killed in action after his plane was shot down. When he wrote letters to home, they would end with that phrase. Rusch was only three years old at the time that her father passed away. She and her sister would be raised by their mother in a single-parent home. She admitted it was a struggle to find her way during childhood, but she found that way after joining her high school’s cross-country team.
“There was no athletics in my background. I was just looking for something, and when I joined that team, I found a community,” she said. “I also found my body could be used as a tool to go places and do stuff.”
That discovery led Rusch to discover a whole world, literally and figuratively. She found a new passion and went all in on it. She committed more to running as well as cycling, hiking, kayaking, and more. That combined with motivation and curiosity led her to do more exploring once she grew up.
“I never envisioned it to be my career, but it kept falling into place as I chose more adventures and doing more things.”
Rusch would spend time working in a local health club, which eventually led to her opening a chain of rock-climbing gyms herself. After that, she went back to exploring again. She wasn’t motivated by money or making a living, even though that turned out to be what happened. It was her passion, motivation, and companionship she felt when involved in fitness activities that fueled her. She would go on to compete in cycling competitively and win seven world championships.
“It’s been an amazing journey that all started with running in high school.”
After fulfilling a drive to be first in competitions, she shifted her focus to new firsts such as unique adventures and going to places she had never been, including in 2015 when she went to the Ho Chi Minh trail that her father crashed and died at. While one may feel that would trigger trauma, Rusch felt a new connection that inspired her.
“I knew very little about my father’s experience because no one talked about it,” she explained. “We went on an expedition to ride it and get a historically accurate sense of it.”
She discovered a lot on that adventure, including that there are still ramifications of the war being felt today. There are still unexploded devices there that could cause harm to unintended victims. Rusch felt compelled to help increase awareness of this and find a way to make a positive change.
“I had no idea. I thought the only part of the war left was memories, but I feel my dad called me there to show I could make a difference.”
That ride connected her to her dad in a unique way. She was so inspired by her experience that she created a documentary called “Blood Road,” which went on to make that difference, and it would win awards as well. More importantly, it led to a career and life shift that would help many people far beyond herself.
“Many people felt like that would’ve been closure, but it was actually a new opening for me,” she stated.
Rusch took her father’s inspiration and special message in those letters he wrote and created her own personal mission. She created the Be Good Foundation as a way to “enrich communities by using the bicycle as a catalyst for healing, empowerment, and evolution.” Part of that mission includes group bicycle rides to help promote cycling and fitness in general.
Rusch shared, “The bike is an international symbol of travel, connectivity, and mobility. People that saw the bike could immediately tell that I was on a journey.”
The logo for the foundation is even in Mr. Rusch’s handwriting, which serves as a symbol for her to continue working to do as he asked.
“I felt he wanted me to help clean up those unexploded ordnances on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and we also extend the bike to more people to help with mental health, physical health, connectivity, community, service, and getting more kids on bikes.”
That last item is especially important to her because she recalled the freedom that came with learning to ride a bike as a kid. There was something empowering about the training wheels coming off and being able to ride on your own. She wants kids to feel that same empowerment today.
“There was a sense of freedom, then you go hang out with your friends and go on adventures. I don’t want us to lose that as adults.”
As for Rusch’s sister, she found her own path through medicine and the United States Air Force. Major General Sharon Bannister found the connection to their father through service, which also helped her forge her path to a career in dentistry. The sisters are now coming back together, and they are working together on sharing the inspiration they received from their father. Sharon serves on the Board for the Be Good Foundation.
“It’s really awesome,” Rusch said proudly. The sisters are clearly passionate about helping others improve themselves, find ways to help others, and make a difference, but most importantly, she hopes that the people she reaches will follow her overall message a mission.