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Celebrating Mother's Day with the Mom of an Olympic Athlete

Suncor, the proud parent company of Petro-Canada, has a history of family members working across the organization: spouses, siblings, parents and their children. To celebrate Mother's Day, I was delighted to feature an interview with Val Mitchell, a Community Relations Senior Advisor at the Edmonton Refinery who has been with Suncor for over 22 years and her daughter, Kelsey Mitchell, who worked for Suncor as a summer student for a few years.

Currently Kelsey is getting ready to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the Track Cycling Team in both the sprint and the keirin.

PT: Val, both your daughter and husband have worked at Suncor, what was it like having family work for the same company as you?

Val: My husband worked in Extraction at oil sands and then out at Firebag. When Brent and I were both at oil sands, we would rarely run into each other during the day, but we did ride the bus together to and from site. Kelsey worked 3 summers at the Edmonton Refinery and for 2 of those summers she had a shift position – so I didn’t see her a lot. However, she would try to pay me a quick visit at lunch – and did leave me an occasional post-it note in my office that was fun to read. Plus she always stole out of my candy jar!

PT: Kelsey, any memories from your time at Suncor?

Kelsey: I remember going to Family Day out at the oil sands and getting family pictures in a wheel of one of the mining trucks. When we moved to Sherwood Park, my dad took a different job, but my mom but my mom transferred to the Edmonton Refinery. So, we overlapped when I was working there. Sadly, we didn’t get to hangout much when we both were working at the refinery. But I would visit her the odd time for lunch, and she would make sure we got our yearly Mother-Daughter picture! And I can’t believe she knew about the candy.

Val and Kelsey

PT: Kelsey is heading to her first Olympic Games. What is it like being the Mom of a Canadian Olympic athlete?

Val: Extremely proud – but terrified at the same time. Her sport is about speed – and the faster you go, the better you do. However, speed is dangerous, and other than a helmet, track cyclists don’t wear a lot of protective gear – so while I am loudly screaming “Gooooooo, Kelsey” I am also saying silently “be careful!!”

Brent and I have had the chance to watch Kelsey compete in a few different competitions: 2018   Nationals at Milton, Ontario, 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru and the 2020 Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin, Germany. What an amazing experience! We love dressing “Canadian” and waving the flag – and we were so looking forward to cheering her on in Tokyo; however, I completely understand the rationale around "no overseas spectators". I am trying to decide if renting one of those giant outdoor inflatable movie screens in August would annoy our neighbours at 4 AM…

Mitchells with Canadian Flag

PT: Kelsey, congratulations on being nominated to Team Canada! As you prepare to head to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, what helps you remain focused? Is there a quote or mantra that inspires you?

Kelsey: Hopefully everything goes as planned and I will be competing from August 4th-8th. COVID has definitely made it an interesting year…and remaining focused has been a challenge at times. There hasn’t been any racing, so we have been training A LOT. The Cycling Canada team actually did a training camp in Edmonton, AB – I took the team for a bike ride past the refinery, aka a little trip down memory lane.

Something I say to myself, it’s very simple…just “do your best.” Everyone has their good and bad days. Days where you are sore and tired and maybe a little less motivated. But if you show up everyday and do your absolute best, there isn’t much more that you can ask of yourself. At the Olympic Games, I know there will be a lot of pressure and I’ll be nervous and stressed, but I am hoping that I’ll know in that moment, whatever happens, I’ll have given my best!

PT: Kelsey, is there a coach, athlete or individual that you look up to as a role model and why?

Kelsey: My family and friends are the people I look up to and take inspiration from. I have teammates (current and past) that inspire me daily. There is no better motivation for me than when I am struggling during a workout and look over and see my teammates dripping in sweat and struggling as well.

Kelsey and family at a competition

PT: Val, teamwork is key in both the workplace and in sports. From your personal experiences, what have you learned about teamwork?

Val: For me, teamwork means a group of people that use their talents, energy and passion towards a common goal. At the Edmonton Refinery, the COVID experience has really illustrated what can be done to “protect the bubble” when fighting this terrible pandemic – it has been 13 months of over 400 people tackling a problem in so many different ways!

For Kelsey who is now competing in an individual sport (versus a team sport like soccer), teamwork means working with her coach, her training staff, and her fellow Canadian track cycling teammates to get stronger and faster together. Despite the fact that they do compete against each other (and this can be very emotional at times), they all have one common goal: Canada on the international podium!

PT: Val, if you could share a piece of advice with Kelsey as she heads into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, what would you say?

Val: Believe in yourself – you are strong and powerful. Your commitment and hard work have taken you to this dream of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that you talked about when you started this journey in 2018. Stay focused – go fast – and whatever the results, be so very proud of all that you have achieved. Your family and friends are fiercely proud of you, Mitchy!

Kelsey in Lima
Photo Credit: Dave Holland/COC

PT: Kelsey, this story will be published in honour of Mother’s Day – is there anything special you would like to share about your Mom?

Oh, Val Mitchell. My mother. This lady is something special. I don’t know how she has more hours in the day than everyone else but somehow, she does it all. When I was growing-up, she would work full-time, volunteer, help raise three kids, and still make it to my sporting events to cheer me on. She has spent hours and hours driving me to practices and games and tournaments. Hours in the rain and snow, watching me run around and kick a ball. She’s been my #1 fan/supporter since day one and I know she’ll be cheering louder than ever when I am in Tokyo on the start line.


Val and Kelsey, thank you so much for sharing your story with PumpTalk readers. Kelsey, we’ll all be rooting for you in Tokyo!

Since 1988, Petro-Canada has given over $12 million in financial support to 3,000+ Canadian coaches, athletes and their families through programs and awards like the FACE™ Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence grants, the Petro‑Canada Sport Leadership sportif Conference and Coaching Excellence Awards, the Canadian Athlete Family Program and the James Worrall Flag Bearer Award.


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