Kelsey Mitchell achieved the kind of results in 2019 that some track cyclists could spend their entire careers working towards.
From her World Cup debut at the start of the year to her first World Cup medals at the end, sandwiched around her double podium performance at the Pan Am Games in Lima and setting a world record in September.
It’s a pretty impressive résumé.
But it’s especially impressive considering Mitchell only started track cycling in 2018 after her natural athletic talent was spotted and cultivated thanks to RBC Training Ground.
One Last Shot at Olympic Dream
Mitchell spent five years as a varsity soccer player at the University of Alberta. She loved sports and dabbled in many, but acknowledges she was never the star of any team on which she had played while growing up. Upon graduation, she left sports behind to embark on a three-month trip in early 2017 throughout southeast Asia.
When she returned home to Edmonton, she found a job driving a watering truck.
But she was still intrigued by an Olympic dream.
It was in May 2017 that she first heard about RBC Training Ground, a program then in its second year that identifies athletes aged 14-25 for development into Olympic hopefuls in either their current sport or something entirely different.
“It wasn’t looking at your technical or tactical abilities, it was looking at how strong you were, how fast you were, how powerful you were and I just felt like that was something I was really strong in,” Mitchell recently told Olympic.ca.
In a bit of a plot twist, by the time Mitchell learned about RBC Training Ground, the qualifying events in her home province of Alberta had already taken place.
But with great faith in her abilities, she booked a flight to Toronto where a qualifying event was scheduled for late August.
Though her parents were supportive, they were also slightly sceptical, after all she had just returned from her overseas travels, didn’t have a lot of money, and they had been expecting her to find a fulltime job.
“Here I am, booking a flight to Toronto to try out at this event that they had never even heard of,” Mitchell said. “I just knew I had to try one last time, just to see what would come of it.”
“If I didn’t try, then I would regret it.”
She spent the summer getting back into shape, using her lunch break from the truck to go for a 30-minute run each day and hitting the gym each night.
When she arrived at the combine in Toronto, the first event she tested on was the vertical jump. Almost immediately, a scout was by her side, so impressed by the height she achieved that he wanted to see what she could do on a bike.
“I did like, I think it was 1200-some watts, and he said ‘do you have any idea what this means?’ and I was like ‘no’,” said Mitchell. “So he said ‘that exceeded the national standard for track cyclists for Cycling Canada.’”
Kurt Innes, who competed in track cycling at the 1992 Olympic Games, is the Technical Lead for RBC Training Ground and recalled to Olympic.ca how quickly he could see Mitchell’s future potential:
“Right away! Lights on!”
As a leg-dominated sport, cycling is always looking for athletes with explosive power. How high they can jump is a good indicator, but they also need to transfer that power onto a bike.
“Her vertical jump score was fantastic and her six-second bike score was like holy cow and she’d never ridden a bike before,” said Innes. “She set, not the national record, but the second best six-second bike sprint that I’ve ever seen.”
A phone call the next day set Mitchell’s future in motion.
Within a month, she was back in southern Ontario to do more testing with Cycling Canada at the velodrome in Milton. She was also invited to RBC Training Ground’s Ontario Regional Final in October.
“Coming back, I could see the potential. I’ve never been this committed to anything in my life,” Mitchell said. “It was so exciting, walking in, seeing all the other athletes, camera crews everywhere, other Olympians had their posters up and I was so inspired. I was so fully invested into the entire experience.”
She posted more outstanding test results, was quickly signed as an official recruit of Cycling Canada and began receiving funding as an RBC Future Olympian.
Of course, she also had to learn how to ride a track bike on the steep curves of the velodrome.
“I knew how to ride a bike, but this is completely different,” said Mitchell. “Pedalling didn’t feel natural, the seat was super uncomfortable.”
Though it wasn’t love at first pedal, her feelings about cycling began to change during a road camp in February and became more certain when she spent the month of May training with the national team.
“Finally getting to go fast on the track and feel the g-force in the corners and in that moment I was just like ‘okay, this is fun, I like this, I want to get faster and better.”
Just about one year after she first walked into an RBC Training Ground event, Mitchell won three medals at the 2018 Canadian Championships, highlighted by the national title in the sprint.
Dreaming of Tokyo 2020
“Two years ago, when I started this whole journey, I remember telling people ‘oh yeah, I want to go to the Olympics’ and it’s just such a ridiculous thing to hear because people are like ‘so you’re going to learn a new sport in two years and qualify for the Olympics,” Mitchell said.
But the dream is quickly moving closer to reality and Mitchell is not afraid to voice new goals: “I plan to represent Canada well and do well… I’m going to hopefully medal.”
Pan Am Games 🥇
Pan Am Champs 🥇
First World Cup medal 🥉
— Cycling Canada (@CyclingCanada) November 30, 2019
Over the holidays, Mitchell was back home in Edmonton where she was reminded of what would have been had she not decided to give her Olympic dream one last go through RBC Training Ground. A few times she drove past the oil refinery where she would have been an operator, working 12-hour days and nights on shifts.
“Now I get to travel and play sports and it’s my dream life.”
Her advice to young athletes considering attending an RBC Training Ground qualifying event?
“If this is something that you’re super passionate about, and you’re actually looking to find a new sport or jumpstart the sport you’re already in, go all in. Don’t just show up and see how it is. If it’s something you want, train for it, fully commit. Have no regrets at the end of the day.”
To learn more about RBC Training Ground, including the schedule and locations of qualifying events across the country as well as how to register, please visit rbctrainingground.com.