NAIT grad receives honorary degree for unwavering dedication and determination
Kelsey Mitchell may be only the second Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal in the women’s sprint cycling, but she is hardly what one might think of as a typical Olympian. Rather than having spent a lifetime dedicating herself to her sport, Mitchell’s path to track cycling was a winding one.
“I went travelling for three months,” she says, “then came back and had a mid-life crisis."
Uncertain about what to do next, the NAIT grad (Instrumentation Engineering Technology ’16, Personal Fitness Trainer ’16) took a job as a truck driver. As a former Ooks soccer player, athletics remained her passion. She knew her days on the field were behind her, but she couldn’t accept that the same was true of her days in sport.
She was more right than she could have imagined. Despite her uncertainty, determination would take this 2022 honorary Bachelor of Business Administration recipient to the Olympic podium in Tokyo, a gold medal hanging from her neck.
A fierce competitor
Mitchell was always known as a fierce competitor on the soccer field and her natural athleticism made her a force to compete against. Born in Brandon, Manitoba and raised in Fort McMurray, Alberta, she began playing soccer at age four. She went on to help lead the Ooks women’s soccer team to two Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) finals, earning a silver medal in 2015, where she was named to the tournament all-star team.
In the end, her soccer career would be decorated with three Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championships and three CCAA medals.
Mitchell would start making her way toward the international stage soon after the 20-something athlete hit her “mid-life crisis.” That’s when she learned about the RBC Training Ground talent identification program and decided to fly to Toronto for a session.
Once they saw what she could do at the training ground, Cycling Canada representatives say they knew she was destined for greatness.
Kurt Innes, RBC Training Ground technical lead, was instantly impressed with Mitchell’s skill set. “Her vertical jump score was fantastic, and her six-second bike score was like, holy cow,” he told Paula Nichols of olympic.ca. “She set not the national record, but the second-best six-second bike sprint that I’ve ever seen.”
Mitchell started training full-time and joined Canada’s national cycling team in October 2018. She won the national women’s sprint title at the 2018 Canadian Cycling Championships, gold in the women’s individual sprint and silver in the team sprint at the 2019 Pan American Games and set a world record at the 2019 Pan American Track Cycling Championships, leading her to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
She has been described by CBC radio host Mark Connolly as “one of the most powerful women in the world on a bike."
“I love training, I love racing, I love working hard,” says Mitchell. “I feel very fortunate to live this lifestyle and I remind myself daily not to take it for granted.”
“A champion in so many ways”
For Carole Holt, Mitchell’s former Ooks women’s soccer coach, none of this is greatly surprising. Mitchell had her sights set on going to the Olympics even before the end of her varsity career, attending national trials for women’s bobsleigh. Wherever her future endeavours took her, Holt knew she would be successful.
“Kelsey is a champion in so many ways – as a student, as an athlete, as a teammate, as a leader, as a professional, and most importantly, as a human being,” she says.
Mitchell says she believes that power comes from within.
“Something I live by is to just ‘give your best.’ On that day, good day or bad day, all you can ask of yourself is your best. You bring that to training, to racing, to everyday life, and you will become the absolute best version of yourself in the end.”
Today, Mitchell continues to compete both nationally and internationally and is a role model for aspiring athletes everywhere, never losing sight of where she came from or the journey that got her to where she is today.
If she has any advice to NAIT’s 2022 graduates – or anyone, for that matter – it would be to trust that things will work out.
“A lot of things had to go wrong in my life for me to get where I am today,” says Mitchell. “So just realizing that perhaps the closed doors or missed opportunities are all blessings in disguise. Life has a funny way of working out.”