Rebecca Rusch is amazing on a slow day. She has biked up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and river-boarded down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. She's a seven-time world champion in multiple sports; and oh yeah, she's a firefighter and EMT in Ketchum.
"My nickname is the 'Queen of Pain.' People wouldn't expect me to be too emotional. I'm tough as nails and don't show my softer side too often," Rusch said, calling from her Wood River Valley home. "But am I nervous about what's about to happen in Sun Valley? You bet I am."
Rusch won't be careening down Mount Baldy. Instead, she'll be inside the friendly confines of the Sun Valley Opera House for a screening of the 2017 Sun Valley Film Festival opening night premiere of Blood Road, the new documentary about Rusch mountain biking the Ho Chi Minh Trail, aka "Blood Road."
The film is the definition of a journey, tracing Rusch's awe-inspiring monthlong trek, which covered nearly 1,200 miles through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Rusch's emotional journey was equally intense, because it was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail her father's plane crashed 45 years ago this month at the height of the Vietnam War.
"I never knew him. I was 3 when my dad was shot down," said Rusch. "I vaguely remember swinging on a tire in my backyard when I was 3. Someone was pushing me on the swing, and I'm certain that it was my dad."
Captain Steven Rusch was shot down March 7, 1972, never to be heard from again.
"We never knew if he was alive, a prisoner of war or if he died that day," said Rusch.
Meanwhile, the little girl on the tire swing grew up to be one of the planet's best and most decorated athletes, winning national and world titles in adventure racing, cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting and mountain bike racing. She is an author and motivational speaker, and was ranked No. 6 on active.com's list of the World's Top 100 Athletes.
"In 2003, I was in Vietnam participating in a week-long adventure race through the jungle. One day, a guide pointed to a spot on the horizon. It was the Ho Chi Minh Trail," Rusch said. "I thought, 'Wow, that's where my father was shot down.' Four years later, they finally identified his remains—that was 30 years after he had been shot down. What an awakening for me. He wasn't a prisoner, he had died that day."
Rusch admits she could have embarked on a quest to find out what happened to her father, but until his remains had been identified, she didn't know how to plan for such an exploration. What's more, she hadn't been emotionally ready.
"My father was talking to me through the years. All my roads led to that journey," Rusch said. "I can really say now that I can trace all of my choices to what would become the most important ride of my life."
Blood Road is a first-rate documentary. Given that it stars an Idaho icon on the emotional journey of her life makes it all the more essential viewing.
"I went on that ride two years ago this month. It's been pretty hard to let this film marinate, but it's ready, and I'm emotionally ready to open my soul to the world and, particularly, to my hometown," said Rusch. "For Blood Road to be the opening night of the Sun Valley Film Festival couldn't be more perfect."
After SVFF, which will feature two screenings—one on Wednesday, March 15 and another on Saturday, March 18—Rusch said she's ready to hit the film festival circuit to promote Blood Road, with her bike always close by.
"This is going to be a pretty unusual year for me. I travel a lot, but I'll be traveling with a movie, [and] you better believe I'll be hosting bike rides while I'm in each city," Rusch said. "It has been an unexpected gift to be a messenger, to be able to tell my dad's story. Now, it's my story, too."