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Pedal Pushing for Student Veterans

Kiersten Downs

Saturday, on the streets of San Francisco, University of South Florida doctoral student and Air Force veteran Kiersten Downs will begin a journey of 3,800 miles with a push of a single pedal.

The applied anthropology doctoral student is biking across America this summer to heighten awareness and to raise money for the organization Student Veterans of America.

Downs fell in love with cycling with the gift of her first two-wheeler, a little pink bike with streamers and training wheels.

Now, she rides an aluminum bike so she can carry packs.

She fell in love with road cycling when she moved to Tampa in 2011 to work on her doctorate.

For the past year, Downs could be found spinning her wheels almost daily at USF’s student recreation center as she trained for the cross-country ride.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Kiersten Downs in training at USF's recreation center.

“In all honesty the physical aspect is not what makes me nervous,” Downs said. “The most challenging part will be to stay mentally focused and mentally strong.”

As she cycles from San Francisco to Washington D.C., Downs plans several stops like in Pueblo, Colo. and Clemson, S.C., where student veterans will meet up and ride with her for a stretch.

You can check out her route or contribute to her cause on her website: bikingusa.net.

Downs’ goal is to raise $10,000 for the SVA, which has more than 800 peer-run chapters. She said the organization is focused on helping veterans transition into college, navigate VA benefits and to offer the camaraderie that they all knew while in the military.

“Not everybody has transition challenges,” Downs said. “The people in our (USF) SVA just have fun. We get together. We work-out. We hang out. It’s a very positive atmosphere.”

Credit Kiersten Downs

The two-month journey will be documented by Downs’ friend, a documentary film maker, who will share driving duties in the support vehicle with Downs’ mom, an experienced nurse.

The MTV college channel, MTVU, also is tracking her ride. An MTV host surprised Downs with a gift of a mobile camera, a GPS device and a $1,000 gas card for her mom.

And Downs will bring along play-lists contributed by student veterans from several chapters to keep her company on the long and sometimes lonely stretches of road.

Downs plans to ride into Washington D.C. with dozens, possibly hundreds, of veterans on August 5, 2013.

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