Katherine Donnelly | 08.15.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Kaysee Armstrong.

A serious competitor on the bike, this Woman In The Wild is no stranger to spending time on, in, and covered in dirt. And somehow, while traveling around the world and racing on two wheels, she also maintains a day job as an accountant and gives back by coaching the next generation of riders. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Jeff Clark.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Kaysee Armstrong is.

Kaysee Armstrong: I’m a 28-year-old full-time accountant here in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I train full time as professional mountain biker and coach a NICA program.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Kaysee Armstrong: I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in a far-from-perfect family scenario, and as a kid I remember knowing that the outdoors is where I felt the safest and the freest. I’ve been chasing and achieving that feeling ever since. Whether it was snowboarding, kayaking, or biking, I always found myself outside enjoying Mother Nature.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Kaysee Armstrong: I went to India a year ago to be one of the first women to participate in a mountain bike race they had in the Himalayas, and on that trip I realized how hard it is to be a woman in this world and the respect that we lack. To be able to go there and show thousands of men and women how strong a woman can be was the best feeling. Being a woman has become that much more powerful for me since then, and to be a powerful woman in the outdoor industry and shake all the stereotypes of what a woman should be or do is amazing.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Kaysee Armstrong: In many ways the outdoors has saved me from what my childhood would have led me to be. My father was an alcoholic and died of an overdose when I was in high school, and many of my family members suffer from the same issues. My family didn’t have a lot of money, and we had to work really hard for what we had, so when I wanted to be the first person in my family to go to college, I had to pay for it myself. I worked full time and then got a cycling scholarship that paid my way to not only my undergrad degree, but also two grad degrees.

My healthy lifestyle derives from the outdoors. I try not to think about what could have been, but I know deep down it could not have ended this well for me. I will eternally be grateful.

The way I pay it forward is I’m an active member in my local mountain bike club where we spend an enormous amount of time building trails and changing our community to appreciate the outdoors more. Also I coach a local kids NICA MTB team, where I get to help a lot of kids fall in love with the outdoors.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think bikers - and outdoor enthusiasts in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Kaysee Armstrong: Think globally and act locally. A great example of this is Knoxville recently stopping a state highway project that would have destroyed the recently created Urban Wilderness. This is the backbone of the bike trail system here. Legacy Park and Appalachian Mountain Bike Club in conjunction with many other important players were able to mobilize the local community and stop this project.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Kaysee Armstrong: My community and family that I surround myself with. To watch my local mountain bike club take 10 miles of trail and grow it into 50 miles of trails accessible from downtown in three years has been inspiring. I love how driven they are, and I love how supportive they are of me and my dream to be a professional mountain biker.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Kaysee Armstrong: Adventure means to be able to escape from my real life and responsibilities.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Kaysee Armstrong: Confidence in pursuing what few others are willing to do.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Kaysee Armstrong: Ever since my experience in India I have grown to appreciate the power of being a strong woman and the power a woman’s body and mind can have.

Growing up with two brothers the same age as me shed some light on how the world views male abilities differently than a woman’s abilities. For example, one time for Christmas my brothers got dirt bikes and I got a computer. There is nothing wrong with getting a computer, but when I asked my parents why I didn’t get a dirt bike, their answer was, “It’s not safe.” I blame society for my parents' belief that somehow a dirt bike was more unsafe for me than my twin brother. After not even 24 hours of having the dirt bikes, I jumped on one with no experience or knowledge and ran into a fence. Of course I scared my parents, but the more I fought against the separation of my gender, the more they realized just how silly it was.

Being a woman is to be a powerful force in today’s world. There are a lot of changes to be made, and women will be crucial

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Kaysee Armstrong: Don’t wait for life to get uncomplicated or easier, you’ll run out of time.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Kaysee Armstrong: I feel that the world has become a place where the goals in life are to get an 8-to-5 job and work your life away for a dollar. For kids it's who has the coolest game system that they can sit inside and play. To me, I would love to see that focus change to work hard, play hard.

My community has played a huge role in me falling in love with mountain biking. There was always a fun event every week, social rides, and something to entice me to keep showing up. Keeping things light and fun and social are what keeps everyone interested, and social media should broadcast that. Sometimes social media focuses on the epic things outdoors, and I believe that scares people away. Everyone needs to know how accessible the outdoors are in a non-intimidating way.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Kaysee Armstrong: I hate to say it, but my phone. I try to keep it on airplane mode while I’m riding or in the woods, but I love to have it with me in case of emergency. Also, you never know when you are going to roll up on something crazy and need a picture!

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Kaysee Armstrong: I love racing for Liv Cycling because I am a firm believer in women-specific gear. Men and women are different, but it doesn’t mean that women are inferior to men. We just have different body styles. We have women's clothing departments and women-specific shoes, so why not have women specific bikes?

LIV is one of the very few that makes a women specific bike, and they are the only company where the women-specific bikes are designed by women.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received and what’s the story behind it?

Kaysee Armstrong: At work one day I had not been able to get a project done, and when I came in the next day my boss had already finished it. I was frustrated, and I felt bad that she had taken care of it instead of giving me another day. She looked at me and told me, “If you want something done, you get it done yourself. Don’t rely on others.” Sure, that project could have waited another day, but what I love about her and what she taught me in that moment is, if you want something, go get it. Don’t wait around for others to make it happen for you.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with biking, what would it be?

Kaysee Armstrong: Wear knee pads!

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Kaysee Armstrong: I try to just be me. I don’t want to fall into an online persona. I want to motivate others, but I also want to show the real me. I feel like online personas can be intimidating. I want people to be able to look at my social media and be inspired but also see me as someone they can have a beer with after a ride.

OP: The world of biking is rapidly progressing. How are you stepping things up to stand out from the crowd?

Kaysee Armstrong: I feel like I am trying to show that it’s possible to not only be a professional mountain biker but also be an ambassador and resource in helping others get on bikes.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years? 

Kaysee Armstrong: Hopefully just lots more bike riding and racing around the world!!

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Kaysee Armstrong: Tell Me I Can’t Do That One More Time.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Kaysee Armstrong: A wild pony. Who doesn’t want to graze all day in the mountains?

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Kaysee Armstrong: I actually did not like mountain biking for the first year, but because I had spent $700 on a bike, I was determined to keep giving it a shot.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Kaysee Armstrong: Drive and determination to get outside and make the world a better place for not only women but everyone. 

Learn more about Kaysee by following along on her adventures on Facebook and Instagram, and by checking out her work as a Liv Cycling Athlete!


Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.