“Overnight success”. The phrase has been tossed around a few times to describe my ‘quicker than normal’ rise in the track cycling world.
Yes, it is true that I haven’t owned a bike since I was 12. Yes, it is true, I took up track cycling at the age of 24. And yes, it is also true that two years later, I am a World Record Holder.
But this is not ‘overnight success’.
My parents, bless their hearts, put me in a variety of sports when I was young. Apparently I had a lot of extra energy to burn. From gymnastics to ringette to judo to volleyball, I tried them all, but my biggest love was soccer. Running around an open field, kicking a ball as hard and as far as I could, eating orange slices at half-time with my team. I loved everything about it.
By the time high school rolled around, I was playing soccer full-time (competitive and school) and supplementing it with volleyball, basketball, handball, and track and field. I didn’t want to stop. I loved sports. Was I a star? Was I the most talented player in the game? Definitely not.
I think I fit the description of a ‘natural’ athlete. I could run. I could jump. I was strong and powerful. However, what I offered in natural ability, I lacked in skill-set and technical finesse. I was the player who had a lot of steals, but very few points. A lot of assists, but almost no goals. I was a work-horse and I loved that role.
Despite the constantly sweaty clothes, stinky equipment, and numerous injuries over the years, playing sports and being an athlete was who I was.
So how did a running, jumping, team-sport athlete find the beautiful but very individual sport of track cycling?
I finished my post-secondary education and five years of eligibility at University of Alberta and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. I travelled around Southeast Asia. It was time to get a job. Weirdly enough, not many people were lining up to hire a new graduate with no experience. I got summer work with Strathcona County driving a watering truck for eight hours a day. Not my dream job, but definitely gave me time to think.
“Okay Kelsey, what do you want to do with your life? What do you love?”
Every time I had this conversation with myself, it came back to one thing - being an athlete is what I loved and what made me happy. Pushing myself to be better, faster, stronger. Training with like-minded people, focusing on a defined goal or dream. So I did some research and discovered a national program called RBC Training Ground - talent identification that looked for potential Olympians by testing an athlete’s strength, power, speed, and endurance. Across Canada, all the annual testing events were done except one in Ontario. I signed up and booked a flight.
Hello, Toronto, here I am. But what have I done? I was 23, standing among athletes whose average age was about 17. I could overhear them talking about how their mom made them be there. Some said they had only decided to try out a few days earlier. Meanwhile, I had flown across the country, arriving five days early so I could recover from the flight and adjust to the time change. This was my last shot at continuing my life as an athlete. I didn’t know it, but this was going to be the start of something big.
Two months later, I returned to Toronto and was chosen as one of the 2017 ‘Future Olympians’. Cycling Canada selected me to join their Fast-Tracked Cycling Program.
Track Cycling? Um…What exactly is a velodrome, and how do you spell ‘Keirin’?
Over the next two years, everything I did was about becoming faster and smarter on the bike. I spent my days in the gym, learning to lift twice my body weight. Hours on a steep banked wooden track, learning to pedal a bike with no brakes at faster than 65 km/h. I got my nine hours of nightly sleep and reduced my peanut butter intake to one tablespoon a day (down from my regular five). My position on the bike, my handlebars, my shoes (my mother’s zinger: “you spend how much for shoes that you don’t even walk on!”) , my helmet – everything was focused on becoming a world class track cyclist.
Jump ahead to August 4, 2019. I am in Lima, Peru at the Pan American Games, proudly wearing the maple leaf – and my new gold medal. Jump another month ahead to Cochabamba, Bolivia. I set a flying-200 metre World Record: 10.154 seconds.
Overnight success? Far from it. Two years of hard work and dedication, built on a foundation of 20 plus years of running around the soccer field, skating across the ice, sprinting up and down the basketball court.
What next? Waiting out this pandemic, to the best of my ability. Getting back in the gym, back on the bike, back to living the athlete life that I have always dreamed about. Representing Canada and travelling the world.
Putting some more years of serious effort into that overnight success story.
(Top Large image by Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)
The Kelsey Mitchell edition
Q: Must-listen podcast?
A: Joe Rogan
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: Give your best. Every single time.
Q: If your life is a movie, what would it be called?
A: Big Mitch's Big Adventures.
Q: Word or phrase you over use?
A: LET'S GO!
Q: Skill you wish you had?
A: The ability to speak French.
Q: Something no one would guess about you?
A: I am a puzzle master.
Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Kobe Bryant, Muhammed Ali, Elon Musk, Serena Williams.
Q: Next goal?
A: Bringing home more hardware for Canada.