Felt Bicycles is a proud supporter of US Military Endurance Sports, a registered 501 (c)3 non-profit amateur sports organization whose mission is “to promote endurance sports as part of a healthy lifestyle to active and Veteran members of the US Armed Forces.” USMES members are some of the most passionate cyclists and triathletes anywhere, and they’re as dedicated to promoting bike riding as part of a healthy lifestyle as they are serving the people of the United States and its allies. This blog series showcases a few USMES athletes who exemplify the spirit that all cyclists share, one of perseverance in the face of adversity and relishing the unique freedom that a bicycle can provide all individuals. (Photos: Bruce Buckley)
Kari Giles tattooed her personal motto—”The body achieves what the mind believes”—along her collarbone to remind herself that the mind is a powerful thing. “When you believe in yourself, you control your destiny,” says Kari. “And the sky’s the limit to achieving your dreams.” Some of the dreams Kari achieved in 2019 included becoming USAT Long Course Duathlon National Champion in her age group and competing at the ITU Multisport World Championships-Intermediate-Duathlon in Spain (where she placed eighth in her age group). Kari currently serves as the Deputy Director of Operations for the entire Georgia Air National Guard. Prior to receiving her direct commission as a First Lieutenant this past July, Kari was named Air National Guard Public Health NCO of the Year, as well as the Robbins Air Force State NCO of the Year, all while maintaining a 4.0 while working towards a Master of Public Health, mentoring young women in the local high school STEM program and speaking to underprivileged youth on the importance higher education.
One of Kari’s proudest moments was serving as a para-guide for a young girl with spina bifida who wanted to complete her first triathlon: “I was proud that the tri series picked me to do it,” said Kari. “This was an amazing moment for me, to not only help someone complete this goal but to see her determination to never quit and push through when most people would have given up.”
Read on to learn a bit more about Kari and her love of bikes and competition.
FELT: Tell us how you first got into cycling and triathlon.
KG: This is a good story. It was on a dare made by a coworker. It was six years ago when I moved to Georgia and one of my new coworkers invited me to run a 10k with her and some friends. When we were done, she told me, “Wow! You’re a good runner! Have you ever done a triathlon before?” I was like, “What is a triathlon?!” She gave me the details, and asked, “You think you can do it?!” Well, I’m never one to back down from a challenge, so I said I could doggy-paddle since I really didn’t know how to swim, that I had a mountain bike and I could run, so I was in! Little did I know, you really shouldn’t use a mountain bike for a road triathlon. After doggy-paddling my way through the swim and then riding my mountain bike, I still ended up in ninth place overall and loved every minute of it! The multisport community was so amazing and supportive, and I loved the physical and mental push of achieving something I never thought my body would ever do.
FELT: In which branch of the military do you serve? Tell us about your service experience.
KG: As a traditional guardsman, I am Public Health Officer in the Air Force (116th Air Control Wing, Georgia). But my everyday job is at the Joint Force Headquarters at Dobbins Air Reserve Base where I work as the Deputy Director of Operations for the entire Georgia Air National Guard, where recently I have been busy helping coordinate the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I always wanted to be in the military ever since I was a little girl. I used to see my dad put on his uniform and I would just get this little shimmer in my eye, being so proud that my dad was making a difference, making so many sacrifices deploying time after time just so that he could defend our nation and the freedoms that we all share. I wanted to be just like him. I was set on joining the Air Force Academy straight out of high school, but that’s when 9/11 happened, and with my dad being deployed, my family could no longer wholeheartedly support my decision. My dad told me to go to college, enjoy the college experience and if I still wanted to join after that, they would support my decision.
KG (cont.): I went to college, got my Bachelors in Science, and worked for a few years in the veterinary field. My job was rewarding, but there was still something missing. I wanted to do more, be more, and I truly wanted to make a difference. The military was still in the back of my mind. So, you can say I was a late bloomer, and I enlisted in the Air Force as a traditional guardsman at the 133rd Air Lift Wing in Minnesota at the age of 28, and I haven’t looked back since. I love every minute of it! Since then, I have been given so many opportunities by training all around the world and meeting the amazing men and women who share the same passion as me to truly make a difference. I have seen this first-hand with the National Guard’s response to COVID-19. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the amazing Medical Group of the Georgia Air National Guard.
FELT: Tell us about your experience training and competing with USMES.
KG: Being a part of USMES has allowed me to be a part of something great, something in which others share the same passion and vision as I do. From the outside, we are just regular people, but on the inside we all hold this special drive. Not many people can understand the sacrifices one makes in both their personal and professional lives to achieve these goals they have set in front of them, and this community does. USMES has allowed me to take my love for duathlon to the next level, and I feel that surrounding myself with these other amazing athletes has given me that extra push to make it to the next level.
KG (cont.): The USMES elite athletes are more than just amazing athletes, they have found that delicate balance between sport and daily life. It is not easy working full-time, traveling for the military, and being an active part in the community, all while training and racing. I feel being a part of the USMES supports my vision of striving to not only improve myself but improve and inspire those around me, but also sharing my love and enthusiasm for the sport, and proving that with hard work and dedication anyone can achieve what they believe. I have this tattooed on my collarbone to remind, “The body achieves, what the mind believes.”
FELT: Do you have any interesting facts about yourself that you’d like to share
KG: Before I worked full-time with the Air Force, I worked in the Veterinary field for 10 years where I was a cardiology and emergency technician. I don’t watch much television, but I am obsessed with the Great British Baking Show. In 2017, I was awarded the Public Health NCO of the Year for the entire Air National Guard. I recently finished my Master’s program with a 4.0 and interned with the Georgia Department of Public Health where I worked closely with the department’s epidemiologist to develop a template for the state’s medical countermeasures for smallpox. Prior to earning my Master’s, I was enlisted in the Air Force, and after I was done I was able to commission as a Public Health Officer.
FELT: Tell us about your short-term and long-term competitive goals.
KG: Well my initial goals for 2020 were to be picked by Team USA as one of their pro duathletes to make the start line for the Viborg ITU Powerman Middle Distance Duathlon World Championships in Denmark, and the ITU Powerman Long Course World Championships, Zofigen, Switzerland, where I wanted to place in the top 10 overall. I also wanted to go back to the Miamiman, which is the site for the Multisport Long Course National Championships, where last year I placed second overall, and I wanted to try to take the National Championship. However, COVID-19 has put a huge damper on these goals, so I have had to try to come up with new interesting training goals to keep myself motivated and pushing myself to new limits. This year, so far, I have done two centuries in one month, biked to the Alabama border and back totaling over 700 miles for that month. I did my longest, farthest ride and with the most elevation gained, where I biked 114 miles with over 25,000 feet of elevation in just over 8 hours in the saddle. I am now trying to come up with interesting goals for my running.
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