How a crash convinced Gelsomino to go rallying

A serious accident led to her giving up a career as a teacher to go rallying full-time


There likely isn’t a bone in Travis Pastrana’s body that hasn’t been broken at some point. Indeed, he’s lining up to return to the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship this week after recovering from a broken pelvis, caused by a badly timed parachute deployment after jumping off a hotel roof.

Standard stuff from Travis.

But Pastrana won’t be the only person strapped into the #1 Subaru WRX STI at 100 Acre Wood Rally who’s broken bones in the past. Co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino pushes the limits just as hard.

“Everyone’s like: ‘You sit with Travis Pastrana?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m probably as crazy as him!’” said Gelsomino at the DirtFish Women in Motorsport Summit last week.

“It’s one of those things. I’ve had my legs broken in nine places. I’ve had some pretty serious things happen to me but when you have a passion and love for something it’s never going to stop you.”

Gelsomino faced a life-changing decision after a crash on Rally South Australia in 2009. Sitting in the navigator’s seat of a rally car had been her passion but not her full-time profession. And she wasn’t able to do either of them for quite a while.

“I was actually a PE teacher at the time, I had a serious crash in the Australian Rally Championship and I couldn’t work for 16 weeks. I’m in a wheelchair, I have to learn to walk again, I go in to school and see the kids in the wheelchair, and at that point in time my school was like ‘we don’t often get to give you this time off work’.

“So I had to make a decision, do I continue being a PE teacher or do I take up racing full-time? And it was such a weird turning point in my life because you have this serious accident, and you think it would actually steer you away from it. I think my mom was hoping it would steer me away from it.”


It did anything but.

It had undoubtedly been a traumatic experience – 11 surgeries were needed afterward. Yet by February the next year, she was already back alongside younger brother Brendan Reeves in a rally car.

A crash with such serious consequences might have put others off. But for Gelsomino, it proved beyond doubt that rallying was her calling.

“At that point in time, that was when I decided I was going to take up racing full-time. So I was like ‘if I still love it that much after what I’ve been through, this is what I need to do with my life’.

“So it’s one of those things that I think some people will have a bad crash and they’ll never race again, and then other people that’s their passion, their desire, their love, so they recover from that incident and they’re back racing a few weeks later.

“In our sport all of us have had crashes, and I’m sure all of us have been injured in some way, and it’s just one of those things that we deal with. And then I think you only become better because you learn from your mistake. Why did that happen? What can we do better to make that not happen? And you only improve from what happened in those scenarios.”

Improvement is an understatement for how Gelsomino’s career has panned out since taking the brave choice to ditch the day job for full-time co-driving. Two years on from that crash in South Australia and she was co-driving in the World Rally Championship. And today she’s the reigning ARA champion.

To this day Gelsomino still carries a broke right fibula from that crash. You think Pastrana is a tough cookie? Look at who’s in the passenger seat.