Kelsey Mitchell hadn’t been on a bike since she was 12 years old when she started competing in cycling in 2017, breaking a world record and landing herself on the Cycling Canada team headed to the Olympics.
She shares her story of her journey to preparing for the Olympics, what sports have taught her in life, and how other girls and women can follow their dreams.
MEET KELSEY MITCHELL
Can you take us back through who young Kelsey was and your journey into and through sports?
Young Kelsey haha… I think at a young age I had quite a bit of energy. My parents put me in a variety of sports as early as they could. My first sports were soccer and gymnastics. From there, I branched off into ringette, judo, basketball, volleyball, handball, etc. I just loved being active and loved working hard. Soccer was definitely my main sport though.
What do sports mean to you and how have they impacted your life?
My life has always revolved around sports. I grew up in Fort McMurray, AB, where there were sports, but not a lot of competition. So my weekends (and my parent’s weekends) were spent driving to Edmonton, or Calgary, to compete in tournaments or games.
When I moved to Edmonton (in high school), I would have a basketball or volleyball game and then soccer right after. One of my parents would pick me up, with something to eat, and drive me to the next game/practice. My days were school, sports, sports, sleep, and I loved every minute of it!
My parents were the best, and always so supportive, so I think loving sports as much as I did and having my parents be there for me, every step of the way, really made me have such a positive relationship with sport.
In 2017, you attended RBC Training Ground, which started your journey into cycling (after not having owned a bike since you were 12 years old) and now you’re heading to the Olympic Games with Team Canada to compete in track cycling. Can you take us through how this all happened?
In April 2017, I returned home from a three month trip through southeast Asia. I came back and a job I had lined up had fallen through. I was lost.
Obviously sports had always been a big part of my life, and I had heard about RBC Training Ground (basically an Olympic combine where they test an athlete’s strength, speed, endurance, and power). It would be my last shot at competing at a high level and by some miracle, actually going to the Olympics. So I signed up.
The only event that was left that year was in Toronto, so I booked my flight. I got a job driving a truck for the summer, would go for a run on my lunch breaks, and would go to the gym in the evening. I was veryyyyy out of shape from travelling, but I was committed to going to this event and giving it my all.
I attended the event in August 2017 and did a vertical jump. A cycling Canada representative was there, pulled me aside and was impressed with my leg power and wanted to get me on the watt-bike. I did a six-second all out effort and ended up exceeding the national standard. I officially signed with Cycling Canada in November 2017, and spent some long winter months in Edmonton, trying to figure out how to ride a fixed gear bike, how to ride the rollers, how to spin my legs faster than 60rpm, etc. It was a very steep learning curve, but I was all in!
Fast-forward to Nationals (September 2018), I got a gold in the Sprint and was officially brought onto the team. In July 2019, it was my big international debut at Pan Am Games and I walked away with a gold and silver medal. From then until March 2020, it was a crazy racing period where we had to get enough points to qualify for the Olympics, and as of March 1st, 2020, we had successfully locked in two female sprint spots for Tokyo. The postponement happened, so I got an extra year to gain more confidence and experience on the bike!
I can’t wait for the Olympics this summer!
What do you think has been the biggest key to your success in reaching your Olympic dreams?
I think there has a been a number of factors that have played big roles in my success. As an athlete, I love to work hard, I love to push my body, and I think the love of competing in general has helped push me everyday. BUT, the biggest one has got to be my support system. Starting with my parents from day one, my family, friends, teammates, coaches, everyone. On days I am frustrated or tired or sore, my support system is there. From hyping me up, to giving advice, to just distracting me from my bike for a bit. I’ve had such an amazing experience with this journey so far and my support system has played a HUGE role in that.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you would offer other girls and women in sports?
If you love it and it makes you happy, don’t stop. I know that a lot of girls are dropping out of sport at a younger age, probably due to a variety of reasons, but if you have love for the game, love for competing, love for working hard, don’t stop. I have learned so many valuable lessons from sport and I honestly don’t know where I would be today without it. So I guess my advice would be: if it makes you happy, find a way to keep sport in your life (it’s worth it, I promise)!
If you could go back and talk to a young Kelsey, what would you tell her?
Mmmmm… I would probably tell her to keep doing what she’s doing. I remember moments as a kid where I doubted myself. I remember being called thunder thighs at a young age or being in a soccer camp (majority boys) and some kid called me a “try-hard”. I look back and I laugh because I know in those moments I was self-conscious and questioning myself. Now, I am “HELL YES, KELS”, those big strong legs will take you places, and going all out, being a “try-hard”, well, that is what will separate you from the others.
Sports are such a huge part of my life and I hope that my story can help inspire girls/women to continue in sport, to be proud of their “thunder-thighs”, and to give their best in following their dreams (whatever they may be)!
Thank you to Cornerstone Insurance for drawing our attention to Kelsey’s story and supporting her Olympic dreams!