Rallying to Success

A U alum covers new territory in the first U.S. women’s off-road navigation rally raid

Not many people would willingly choose to be dropped off in the desert for a week with no cell phone or other technology, but for Laura Wanlass BS’05, it’s become a yearly occurrence.

Wanlass, who works at a management consulting firm, was looking for a new challenge when she discovered the Rebelle Rally, the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the U.S. Also called cross-country rallying, a rally raid is a type of long distance off-road racing that usually takes several days.

How did her first event go? “It kicked my butt,” says the Salt Lake native. “It was the biggest humble pie experience of my life.”

The eight-day Rebelle Rally covers 1,500-plus miles of terrain across the Nevada and California desert and tests participants’ driving and navigation skills—with no GPS or cell phones allowed.

Wanlass, who grew up off-roading in Utah, is the driver for her team, while her partner navigates.

A record-setting high school and college pole vaulter, Wanlass has been an athlete her whole life. “I basically did pole vault because they told me women couldn’t do it,” she says. “And now it’s amazing to see what women can do.” Having developed rheumatoid arthritis after her daughter was born, Wanlass views the rally as a way to do things with her vehicle that she can’t do with her own body anymore. 

While she loves being challenged, her favorite part of the Rebelle is the community. “I think all of the women who do it are unique and brave,” she says. “It’s a very difficult event… and I just love seeing how big of an accomplishment it is for them when they get to the end.”

Wanlass came in third with partner Maria Guitar in this year’s event, her sixth, and she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. She’s already looking for the next new humbling challenge.


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  1. This could have been me! Class of ’90 Comm/News-Editorial. Alas, my navigator and I didn’t have the budget for this pricey event and couldn’t round up sponsors in time to make it happen for us. What a fantastic, AMAZING event! Good on Laura Wanlass for gettin’ it done!

    1. Let me know if you ever want to connect about it. There are some trainings that you can do leading up to when you finally make it to the event.

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