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Women in Cycling

Cari Higgins: New Vice Chair of USA Cycling Board of Directors Continues to Lead from the Front

By: Jim Rutberg  August 17, 2022

Higgins becomes the first Athlete Representative, and first woman, to hold a leadership position on the USA Cycling Board of Directors.

Cari Higgins is not someone who sits on the sidelines. The 23-time National Champion has been a vocal advocate for amateur and elite athletes as an Athlete Representative to the USA Cycling Board of Directors. She also represents the national governing body as a member of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council (AAC). Now, she is taking on an additional role as Vice Chair of the USA Cycling Board of Directors.

A Grassroots Success Story

Higgins’ cycling career showcases the potential of grassroots programs. Athletics played an important role in her life through high school, college, and her early corporate career. Cari played Division 1 soccer at the University of Alabama and stayed active as a runner after college. Looking for an outlet for her competitive drive, she tried triathlon and realized she excelled most on the bike.

At 29 years old, Higgins attended the “Learn the Velodrome” community program at the USOPC Velodrome in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It soon became apparent she possessed the raw power and aptitude for track racing, and she felt drawn to the community. “The community on the velodromes is so tight knit and supportive,” she commented. “I was really having fun. There was a very supportive group of people who were encouraging, helpful when it came to gear, and forthcoming with advice.”

After a few years of balancing a corporate career with racing on the road and track, Higgins reached a “now or never” tipping point. She was at a transitional phase in her corporate career and, at 32 years old, had an opportunity to pursue cycling full-time. “The timing was right, my family was very supportive, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

From Strength to Strength

Although Higgins entered professional cycling later than most, her journey provided some advantages. “I had a different perspective on the opportunity I was given, and I knew myself as an athlete,” she said. “I had been an athlete my whole life, so I knew how to get my body physically more prepared. And I had the life experience to recognize how fortunate I was to be able to race in Europe and represent the USA at World Cups. It made me go after every moment I was given.”

Between 2007 and 2016, Higgins won road and track races all over the world, racking up 23 National Championships and nine medals at the Pan American Championships. Nearing the end of her career, she was not selected for the 2016 Olympic Team and faced another turning point. She could hang it up and walk away from the sport, or race one more year and retire on her own terms.

“I decided I was going to race through the end of 2016, so starting in 2015 I knew I had a year and half to enjoy all the things I love about cycling and the team environment,” Cari said. “I was fortunate to be part of the United Healthcare Cycling Team, and they empowered me to carve out my own road schedule. That team was so much fun, so dominant, and such a great environment to race in. I’m glad I ended my career that way because I retired while I still loved riding my bike.”

After retiring from professional cycling, Higgins began a real estate career in Boulder, Colorado. Combining her pre-cycling corporate experience and lifelong commitment to excellence, she quickly established herself as an expert resource in construction, renovation, and property sales. “One of the big things I gained from cycling was the confidence that, if I set my mind on something, I could go from being one-of-many to one-of-a-few,” she said about her post-cycling success. “I was always a good athlete, and at the collegiate level I was one of thousands of talented, hard-working athletes. Cycling showed me I could be one of very few athletes who get the opportunity to represent their country in competition. That gave me a whole next level of confidence that I’ve taken into my post-cycling career.”

Joining the Board of Directors

The USA Cycling Board of Directors provides oversight and accountability to the CEO and leadership of the organization. In 2021, three new Athlete Representatives were elected to the Board. Cari Higgins, Meredith Miller, and Maddie Godby joined the Board alongside Alison Tetrick, who was already serving as an Athlete Representative. For the first time in USA Cycling history, all four Athlete Representative positions were held by women.

“The USOPC has mandated that 1/3 of Board of Director seats must be held by athletes, across all NGBs. We, along with the at-large members, are there to provide the athletes’ voice to the CEO and senior management,” said Higgins. The Chair role has historically been filled by a member of the USA Cycling Foundation, and now with the Vice Chair, USA Cycling can have an athlete representative elevating the athletes' voice and the rest of the board members. Higgins will be the first Athlete Representative, and first woman, to hold a leadership position on the USA Cycling Board of Directors.

Guiding USA Cycling Forward

Although USA Cycling, like many NGBs, faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Higgins believes the organization is headed in the right direction.

“We’ve had a lot of change in the past year, and as a Board of Directors we are headed in a very positive direction. For one, we have strong diversity within the Board, in terms of personal and professional backgrounds as well as perspectives. I am excited that this is a group of people who can respectfully tackle tough subjects and not be a rubber stamp for the CEO and senior leadership."

In her dual roles as Vice Chair of the USA Cycling Board of Directors and member of the USOPC Elite Athlete Advisory Committee, Higgins hopes to bring visibility to fact athletes’ voices and concerns are represented at the highest levels of leadership. “I want to serve in this role in a way that inspires other athletes to serve after me. When my time is done, I want another athlete to be able to step into this role and understand the importance of it.”