Former Ooks soccer player sets sights on the Olympics - in cycling

Kelsey Mitchell pedals toward an Olympic dream

As an athlete, Kelsey Mitchell (Instrumentation Engineering Technology ’16, Personal Fitness Trainer ’17) has broken nine bones – not including fingers and toes, which she doesn’t count.

“I’m fragile,” says Mitchell.

She doesn’t let it get to her. In the third game of her final year of NAIT Ooks soccer in 2015, Mitchell picked herself up after a tackle and felt bone rubbing on bone below her neck. Suspecting a snapped collarbone, she left the field only at the request of her coach, Carole Holt, suffering more from a broken heart than the injury that would sideline her until the provincial championships that fall.

Today, she looks back on that fracture – and the healing that followed – as a revelation.

“Why wasn’t I working as hard as I possibly could when I was healthy to be the best that I could be as an athlete?” she says.

That thought still motivates Mitchell but she doesn’t dwell on it much while training at Edmonton’s Argyll Velodrome, where she’s pedalling toward a dream to compete in the Olympics. After realizing that at 24 she’s likely too old to get there in soccer cleats, she’s dedicating herself to cycling, a sport that ranks among the most gruelling.

Looking at how Mitchell performed in the 2015 provincial soccer finals, Holt has no doubts about her chances of success.

“She was a beast,” says Holt, who led her team that year to a national silver medal. “She has an incredible pain threshold. The fact that she’s translating her athletic abilities into a sport like short track cycling – I can just imaging the pain those athletes go through in competition. She’ll cope really well with that.”

From soccer to cycling

Before she started training in November 2017, the last time Mitchell rode a bike was when she was around 10 years old. In fact, competitive cycling wasn’t her idea – and how she arrived at it was more circuitous than any velodrome.

In April 2017, after four months of travelling in Thailand, Mitchell planned to return to Alberta to take part in RBC Training Ground, a talent identification and funding program she’d found online.

“I just wasn’t ready to be done with competitive sports,” she says.

“I just wasn’t ready to be done with competitive sports.”

An illness while abroad, however, bumped her return date back a week and she missed the event. Determined to try out, she booked a trip to Ontario where the program was holding further trials. There, her performance on a stationary bike impressed Cycling Canada representatives.

“I honestly didn’t know that much about this sport,” says Mitchell. She didn’t know how the races worked, the mechanics of the bike, or even how much it would hurt in the beginning. “At first, sitting on the bike for an extended period of time was quite difficult, quite uncomfortable. It’s getting better.”

Regardless of her newbie status, Cycling Canada got in touch with former Olympic cyclist and current coach Alex Ongaro, who works out of the Argyll Velodrome, to tell him about the potential “transfer” athlete.

“Once I saw her, right away I knew her potential,” he says.

kelsey mitchell, nait grad, former ooks soccer player, edmonton, cyclist

The road to Tokyo (or Paris)

Under Ongaro’s guidance – and with the help of funding from several sports agencies and loans of pricey equipment from the local Juventus cycling club – Mitchell keeps a rigorous training schedule.

She’s on the bike six days a week, often staring out at little more than white fields of snow from the velodrome training room, and other times at home while watching Netflix (she gives Punisher rave reviews). She does weights three times a week, focusing mostly on legs and back, at Firstline Training, where she also works part time as a trainer.

And she lives to beat the records she set the day before. “I love it – pushing my body to its max,” says Mitchell. “It’s the competitiveness.”

That attitude is the biggest reason that Ongaro is predicting a podium finish for Mitchell this fall at the national finals in Milton, ON – a key stepping stone to her Olympic goals. He’s seen the same work ethic in top athletes he’s coached in the past.

“She is very much ‘get to business, get it done,’” says Ongaro. “And happy all the time about doing it. It’s fun having someone who’s enjoying it. She’s constantly improving.”

Making it to the Olympics won’t be easy, of course. But, in addition to natural athleticism, Mitchell has the very nature of cycling on her side, says Ongaro. Riding requires technique, but fast learners like his current student can pick it up quickly. In his mind, while Tokyo in 2020 is possible, “Her chance for the following Olympics [Paris, 2024] is very, very good.”

Until then, Mitchell plans to make the most of her time, good health and lack of broken bones. Though she’s had offers and interviews, she’s putting a conventional career on hold. “Growing up, I wanted to do everything,” she says. She’s more focused now; she knows exactly what she wants. And now she knows how she can get there.

She’s more focused now; she knows exactly what she wants.

“I think if I would have taken a job out of school I would have questioned whether I could have made it,” says Mitchell. “Regardless of what happens, I know I won’t regret it in the end. I’ll know I gave it my best shot.”

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