She cycled on average 60 to 70 miles a day for two months. Battled dogs, heat, rain storms, ticks, a few crashes and a gas leak in her support vehicle.
That’s how Air Force veteran and University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs spent her summer.
Her cross-country trek ended Monday when she dipped her front cycle tire in reflecting pond at the Washington D.C. mall and then rode across a finish line established at the National Veterans Center.
“I kind of rode through the finish line,” Downs said. “I turned around and the first people I made eye contact with were the students from USF, the Student Veterans Association. We had seven people come down. That was really emotional tears started when we locked eyes. And I just dropped my bike and ran up and gave them a big hug.”
She had no time to shower or change before being ushered into a large hall filled with fellow student veterans, dignitaries and political figures including the mayor of Washington DC.
Downs delighted them with anecdotes from her two-month journey cycling across 10 states and covering almost 3,800 miles.
“We stayed in 58 different campsites, Walmart parking lots and VFWs and let me tell you there is nothing more American than that,” said Downs to the applause and laughter from the audience.
Her ride had two goals: raise $50,000 for the non-profit organization, Student Veterans of America, and to raise awareness about the leadership qualities and can-do attitude of student veterans.
That student veteran solidarity was demonstrated throughout her trip. At several locations, student veterans would join her ride for a day.
She recounted that three of the veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado had little cycling experience, but stuck with her for 52 miles.
In her video log #4, Downs can be seen running back up the road to Jorge as he came into view with the support vehicle behind him so they could run the final 100 yards together.
“I never considered quitting. The thought never even crossed my mind,” Downs said. “Were there times when I was incredibly stressed out and I had to reassess? Absolutely. Did things go wrong? Heck yeah. We had a gas leak, we had a tick infestation that was disgusting. I never want to go through that again. I was injured. I got sick. So, it was incredibly stressful at times.”
Downs said she’s not been on a bicycle since completing her ride August 5, 2013. She estimates it will take her two weeks to recover before she starts rolling again.
Below is a video of Kiersten Downs speech Monday at the National Veterans Center courtesy of USF media relations.
Watch a video-log from Downs that shows the determination of the student veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado and the auxiliary of the VFW who made them breakfast.