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Saying “Yes” to Adventure

Stories of Commitment: Kaysee Armstrong

Kaysee Armstrong is known within the cycling community as the “yes girl”, because of her appetite for adventure and willingness to try just about anything once. It’s a nickname she’s quick to claim. As a high school cheerleader-turned collegiate mountain bike national champion-turned multi-time mountain bike stage race winner and long-distance gravel racing phenom, she doesn’t like to set limits for herself and it’s paid off. But over the years, Kaysee has realized some of those “yeses” were serving other people’s happiness instead of her own – something she has set out to change. In the process, she’s found the intersection between her past and future while forming a new relationship with her commitments both on and off the bike. Join us while we get to know the woman behind the “yes”.

Kaysee Armstrong "Yes Girl"

Liv: Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

Kaysee: I grew up on a beef cattle farm in Whitesburg, Tennessee. I don't recall there being even one stop light in town, but we did have Karl & Kathy's Kountry Kitchen that served up my favorite pulled pork BBQ sandwich as a kid. My real dad and mom were never together, and my mom met my stepdad, Clinton, when I was about 3 years old. I have a twin brother, Storm, and a stepbrother Jarrid that was only a few months younger than us. I spent a lot of time as a kid crying and complaining about living on the farm. I wanted to live in a subdivision where I could have friends to play with. Instead, I spent many of my days roaming in fields, riding dirt bikes or go-karts, climbing hay bales, becoming best friends with whatever animals we had, bottle-feeding calves, and working the hardest work I have ever done in the tobacco fields. In hindsight there is no other childhood I would have rather had.

That is not all my childhood was made up of. I like to remember it that way, but just like everyone else it was much more complicated than that. My real dad, Gerald, and mom, Kelly, had my twin brother and me at a very young age and loved us both to death. Unfortunately, my dad had a lot of demons haunting him and battled addiction his whole life. He ended up dying from a drug overdose when I was in high school, and I’ve spent a lot of my life being mad at him. As a kid it was hard to understand how someone couldn't just choose loving their kids more than their addictions, but as an adult I have a better understanding and no longer feel anger, just deep sadness, towards him.

I cherish all the good memories of my dad taking us out on the boat all day in the summers and camping at night, but I still have haunting memories of being 12 years old and having to help my dad drive home from a bowling alley because he kept passing out at the wheel. Every time he got sober and went to rehab, I felt like I was finally going to have a normal life, but then he would show up to the football games I was cheering at with that empty stare in his eyes and I knew he was gone again. He spent one of his longest times sober when I was 15. He had lost everything, hit "rock bottom", and went to rehab to get help. Spent almost a year sober and got a good job working for the railroad. He took me shopping and filled me up with hope and happiness, then the same week in my science class the phone rang, and my stomach dropped. I knew it. I was quickly on my way to the hospital to see my dad's body lying there lifeless, victim to shock after he decided he couldn't do it anymore. He had abandoned me one last time.

I left that day and chose not to talk about it for years. I can't even write this now without feeling that deep hurt and abandonment. I wasn't alone though. My stepdad/rock and mom were there for me along with the farm. I go back home now, and I see just how much love and security that farm gave me. It taught me hard work, but it also gave me curiosity for the outdoors and showed me just how easy it was to get away from the world by being outside.

Kaysee Armstrong Family

Liv: When and how did you get into cycling? What about cycling made you fall in love with it?

Kaysee: I grew up doing competitive cheerleading in Kingsport, TN at Top Gun Cheerleading Academy. I would spend 20 hours a week at that gym training and coached to help pay for my tuition. It was everything I needed. An outlet for my frustrations and friends that made me laugh and feel normal. When I aged out of cheerleading, I desperately started seeking another sport. I found whitewater kayaking first, but then quickly switched to mountain biking because I was afraid of kayaking.

I didn’t fall in love with cycling immediately, but I had spent my entire summer savings on a $700 bike, so I was desperate to keep at it. Luckily the MTB community was a lot of fun to hang out with. I kept showing up to group rides to hang with everyone and get my exercise fix, while silently suffering and wrecking every ride. I once even threw my bike in the woods after a 60-year-old man passed me.

I started falling in love with it when I started making progress. Obstacles on trails that used to make me get off and walk became rideable and filled me with accomplishment. Then I started signing up for races and my competitive drive quickly helped me get better and faster. During my junior year in college, I asked to be a part of the cycling team. They mostly did road racing, but they gave me a kit to wear at collegiate MTB races and I got second at USA Cycling Collegiate nationals my first year. I shocked myself at how fast I was, so I poured all my energy into it and fell deeper in love with cycling.

Liv: Give us the rundown of your cycling journey – what were some of the big steps/moments that led you from that first ride to being on Liv Factory Racing

Kaysee: What is so great about cycling is it feels like there are always big steps that are actually quite little. Whether it is making it over the root you had to walk your bike over last week or signing up for a race that seems intimidating and completing it. If you had told me 10 years ago when I got into cycling that I would be on Liv Factory Racing doing what I am doing today I would first ask, "What does it mean to race your bike professionally? Is that even a thing?"

Here I am though, doing more than I could have ever imagined possible. My last year racing collegiately on a scholarship I won USA Cycling collegiate nationals. I now had a name and confidence in the sport. My local bike shop hooked me up with a free bike and I decided I wanted to see the world. I signed up for the Trans Andes Challenge in Chile, a 6-day MTB stage race, and fell in love. I started traveling around to do as many MTB stage races as I could. I won the Trans Andes Challenge, Transylvania Epic, Pisgah Stage Race, and many more.

Then I got a phone call from Liv asking if I wanted to go to Cape Epic in South Africa to race on the pro team and mentor the Liv Trail Squad. I was beyond honored and excited. That trip was the reason I am on Liv Factory Racing and part of the Liv family. After Cape Epic, I kept getting asked to travel with the team to races so I kept saying yes. I got fourth at USA Cycling Pro Nationals and signed a contract with Liv to race bikes the next year.

Kaysee Armstrong Community

Liv: What are some of the adventures that saying “yes” has allowed you to experience throughout your cycling journey? Is there any time you wish you had said “no”? Why?

Kaysee: Saying yes to Cape Epic and all the other races that Liv wanted me to go to that year is why I got a contract, but even before that I just always said yes if I got invited to do rides or races. "Like, why not?" is what I always said to myself. I have a hungry appetite for new adventures and obstacles that feel impossible, because there is nothing more satisfying than getting to do new things and feeling accomplished after doing something that felt impossible.

Saying yes is scary sometimes and a lot of times I start questioning my decisions when I'm suffering or overextending myself. I don't regret any of my yeses though. If anything, I have learned a hell of a lot from the times I said yes and should have said no. Those were painful but I grew so much from those.

Now I'm 31 and still say “yes” a lot, but I also say “yes” a lot more to myself and my time. When I first got into cycling it was all consuming, but it was because I loved to get outside and see new things. Now that cycling is my job, I have to manage the balance between races that come with expectations and time for me to keep enjoying cycling for the reason I fell in love with it in the first place.

Liv: What are some obstacles you’ve faced along your journey that have impacted you personally and professionally? What are the lessons you’ve learned from those obstacles?

Kaysee: Life is full of obstacles. Everyone everyday has to overcome obstacles, and just like everyone else I have had to overcome a lot of obstacles. My biggest obstacle is myself and how I internally handle situations. Whether it is choosing to ignore the connection of my feelings of abandonment and control of my food and overexercising myself, or just simply running away from all my feelings inside that made me feel yucky, worthless, and confused.

Getting help with my internal battles and feelings has left me happier than any race win could give me. Learning how to love me and understanding just how important I am has made living life a lot better. It's hard to live up to everyone’s expectations and when that becomes my only focus, I lose sight of my passions. Passion is what keeps me moving forward, and I get passion from things that fill up my cup, not what fills other people's cups.

Liv: As you say, “A commitment is something you choose to do” not something you have to do. How have your commitments changed over the past few years as you’ve made that distinction? How has drawing that line helped you set your priorities as a professional athlete, in your career as an accountant, and in your relationships?

Kaysee: In the past years I’ve started to distinguish the difference between “I should” and “I want” when it comes to goals. I have become a little more selective with my races. Racing is not my everything and it never will be. Racing comes with a lot of expectations, and I have found that keeping my mind busy and engaged in other goals keeps me happy. I’m currently taking my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams and I’m halfway through. Becoming a CPA has always been an intimidating goal for me even though I have a graduate degree in accounting, and I have spent the past ten years juggling cycling with my accounting job. To finally commit myself to that goal was scary and full of a lot of studying that isn’t fun, but I know this is something I want. When I want something, I commit to it, and with that commitment comes drive and focus to help me achieve that goal.

Kaysee Armstrong Studying

Liv: What is the most important role that biking plays in your life today? 

Kaysee: Cycling started out as an exercise outlet and quickly became my way to see the world. It continues to be my main way to see the world, but it also feels grounding to me. It keeps me outside, provides me with a great community to surround myself with, keeps me away from technology, and reminds me just how lucky I am to be me doing what I love to do.

Kaysee Armstrong Liv Committed