In honor of Veterans Day, we’re honoring athletes who are dedicated to our country and to fitness.
Technical Sergeant Kari Giles does it all. After graduating college with a Bachelors in Science and accepted a job in the veterinary field, TSgt. Giles enlisted in the Air Force as a traditional guardsman at the 133rd Air Lift Wing in Minnesota. In 2017, TSgt. Giles competed at the Long Course Duathlon World Championships, finishing third in the world for her age. During the same calendar year, she was chosen out of the entire Air National Guard as the Public Health NCO of the Year.
We spoke with TSgt. Giles and asked her what got her to pursue a military career, what it means to be an American and how she balances work and training.
At what age did you decide to pursue a military career?
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.
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!
Can you speak on your father’s influence on you?
My father had a huge influence on my military career. I still have this image in my head and it makes me smile every time I remember my dad putting on that uniform. It would give me this sparkle in my eye and gave me the biggest smile knowing my dad was in the military. Seeing the sacrifices my father made for me, our family and our country made me so proud and I wanted to be just like him. I now look at myself in the mirror with my uniform on and what I see is him now smiling back at me.
What would you say was the most memorable part of your military career?
One of the most memorable parts of my career thus far was when I was chosen to represent the Minnesota National Guard, for Air Force and Army, at the 90th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange, where we spend three weeks training with the Norwegian Army and completed a crash course in winter survival training. We spent five days cross-country skiing up the mountains with a 50-pound ruck on my back and a 25-pound ruck of camera equipment on the front since I was also tasked with covering this event (I was public affairs at that time). I remember the cold nights sleeping in snow igloos we built, I don’t think I really slept. I ended up receiving the Army Achievement medal for my excellent representation. It’s a tie between that and last year when I was chosen out of the entire Air National Guard and was awarded the Public Health NCO of the year.
What does being American mean to you? Has that definition changed over the course of your lifetime?
Every day, I wake up and I put this uniform on and every day, it still makes me proud to be an American. Hearing the national anthem still brings a little tear to my eye knowing the men and women that came before me have fought for the freedom I now enjoy.
Being American to me means I am free to follow my dreams and goals. It means being respected and respecting my fellow citizens regardless of race or gender.
We saw in your bio you qualified for Team USA at the 2018 Triathlon National Championships and competed in the 2017 Duathlon World Championship. At what age did you start to take an interest in running/cycling and swimming?
I was also a late bloomer here: It wasn’t until I moved to Georgia four years ago and a co-worker challenged me to this thing called “triathlon” that I fell in love with the multisport community.
I learned a lot that first race such as how my Walmart mountain bike wasn’t going to do the trick and how much I enjoyed this sport and the people in it.
In the four short years, I’ve gone from being in the top 15 in my age group to now winning female overall and sometimes even the overall against the men.
Some of my proudest athletic accomplishments over the last four years have been: a) in 2015, I placed third overall female at the Miami Man Half Ironman Duathlon; b) in 2015 & 2017, I won Tri the Parks overall female winner in the Duathlon Series (Compilation of six races from April to September); c) in 2016, I competed at the Long Course Duathlon National Championships qualifying for Worlds in 2017 and d) in 2017, I competed at the Long Course Duathlon World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland placing 3rd in the world for my age.
What advice would you share with aspiring endurance athletes or runners and triathletes striving to take their sport to the next level?
Since I have only been doing this a short time, my advice is my favorite quote, “The body achieves what the mind believes.”
The mind is a powerful thing. When you believe in yourself, you control your destiny, the sky is the limit to achieving your dreams and goals.
Can you list some of your biggest motivations?
I used to be overweight. Growing up, my nickname was “chubs” and I was also born with a heart murmur and I have a heart arrhythmia that comes and goes.
Living a healthy lifestyle so I can continue to do the things I love is a huge motivator. I would also say my internal drive to always be the best me I can be, being motivated and dedicated puts you one step above the rest.
Lastly, helping others is a huge motivator. Seeing that I inspire others both professionally and athletically makes me feel like I am truly accomplishing my goal to make a difference. It makes me want to be better so in turn, I can make them better.
What races are you currently training for?
On November 11, I will be at the Miamiman Multisport National Championship Festival. I will be competing in Long Course Duathlon Nationals (10k run, 56-mile bike and the 13.1-mile run).
Then I start training for the big one at the ITU Multisport World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain From April 27 to May 5, 2019. I will be racing with Team USA and competing in my age group for the Standard Distance Duathlon World Championships on April 28.
Describe a typical day for you in terms of training.
A day in the life of Kari... I warn you, most people say they get tired just hearing about it (laughs).
I wake up at 6 a.m. to do pushups and situps to get my blood flowing, take care of my dog, put on my workout clothes, grab my work bag and premade meals.
I head to base, where lately, I have been doing a 1.5-hour workout that consists of either a speed workout at the track (6 miles) or a long run around base (8 to 10 miles).
I then work all day. Get home around 4:30 p.m., feed my dog and try to squeeze in a 2-to-2.5-hour bike ride before it gets dark or I do a strength workout or yoga.
As a cool down, I then take my dog for a mile walk before eating dinner, which is usually between 7:30 and 8 p.m.
Up until last week, I then would be spending the next 2-3 hours doing homework, but as of late October, I submitted my last paper for my Masters in Public Health with a certificate in Emergency Preparedness.
Do you have a specific diet that you follow to help nourish your body and prepare it for such vigorous training?
I have always believed that you truly are what you eat and 80 percent of any healthy lifestyle is all about what you take in. I do, on occasion, really surprise my friends and family and I will eat junk because the key is everything in moderation. But I really notice that I feel sluggish on those days I don’t eat as well.
Your alarm goes off and you’re just not “feeling it.” How do you motivate yourself?
Ah, now this happens a lot! But the two things that motivate me to get out of bed is 1) reminding myself how good I feel after I accomplish my workout and 2) reminding myself that I have a goal I want to achieve and if I want to give my all, it starts here.
How will you celebrate this Veteran’s Day?
I am honored to be representing my fellow veterans sporting my USMES Race Kit. My teammates and I will attend the Miamiman Multisport National Championship Festival, where I will be competing in Long Course Duathlon Nationals (10k run, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run). After this, I am going to be enjoying my long awaited ice cold beer and froyo with a fellow teammate.