Bike America Finale

USF student veteran's cross country journey is complete. View a video and slideshow of her finish.



By Katy Hennig
USF News


Washington, D.C. (Aug. 5, 2013) – Cruising into Washington, D.C. on a sunny Monday afternoon, Kiersten Downs reached her goals. Cycling close to 3,800 miles across the country and climbing over 100,000 feet in elevation in the last 2 months, every push of the pedal has been dedicated to fellow student veterans.

“From the beginning I have said that this is a way for me to combine three of my passions,” said Downs. “I will always be an activist. I will always be an advocate for vets, always. I put that ahead of anything else. I’m also an incredibly staunch advocate for higher education and I’m a cyclist. So this was a way for me to combine all three of these things.”

 

Now the University of South Florida student has completed her bike ride across the United States, from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and bring support to veterans transitioning into university life.

Downs said she feels excited and accomplished to complete her journey, but is more proud of others that shared the road with her at different times throughout the ride.

“I am most proud of all the support I received along the way, with riders from the SVA joining up for encouragement,” said Downs, referring to the national nonprofit Student Veterans of America.

Although Downs completed the entire ride on her own, many cities that Bike America cruised through brought fellow veterans and supporters out to ride alongside and take part in the journey.

During the last 70 miles from Fredericksburg, Va., five cyclists joined forces with Bike America and carried the momentum all the way to D.C.

As Downs cruised down H Street NW and into University Yard in the heart of Washington, D.C., supporters cheered and embraced her.

Many followers have been tracking Downs’ remarkable journey across America on her website bikingusa.net, where she and filmmaker Annie Pace have ventured and explored along the way. Downs' parents, Cornelia and Chris Downs, were there for support throughout the ride, as well as the Downs’ dogs Pippen and Mandy Moo.


The National Student Veterans of America held a reception at the National Veterans Center on the George Washington University campus to honor Downs’ achievement and celebrate her contribution to student veterans.

“It’s an incredible journey,” said Michael Dakduk, the Executive Director of Student Veterans of America. “It’s a journey of resilience, it’s a testament to our student veteran leaders and who they are and what they do.”

Downs’ main focus with her Bike America Student Veterans Ride for Education was to raise awareness and funding for SVA.

By successfully raising more than $50,000, Downs has surpassed her goal, with 15 percent of the proceeds donated to the SVA chapter at USF and the rest to chapters of Student Veterans of America throughout the country, dedicated to essential projects and leadership initiatives.

“As she was on her journey, if you’ve had a chance to watch any of her video blogs, you’ll see that she worked alongside student veterans, veterans in the communities, but also civilians got involved in this ride and that’s what its about,” said Dakduk.

Downs traveled through 10 states, riding through three tires and replacing inner tubes 10 times, including once on her last day. After more than two months on the road and accomplishing her incredible goals, Downs is looking forward to relaxing with family and friends.

Downs, a United States Air Force veteran, is a doctoral student at USF and will return to Tampa to complete her last semester studying Applied Anthropology this fall.

From the dip of her rear tire in the Pacific to the splash of her front wheel in the Reflecting Pool in D.C., she has completed her journey. For now.

View a story and video about Downs preparing for her trip and mtvU on campus at USF.

Katy Hennig can be reached at 813-974-6993.