Shifting Gears with Canadian Olympic Coach Denise Kelly

By Denise Kelly | 07/24/12
Shifting Gears with Canadian Olympic Coach Denise Kelly

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Shifting Gears with Canadian Olympic Coach Denise Kelly
Career After Competition ... it's in the Blood.

The last time I stepped on a podium was in 1991 at the Pan American Championships in Cuba. Our team time trial team won the bronze medal. I knew that once I stepped off that podium, my cycling career would take a new and exciting turn. Stepping down from a sport is one of the hardest things an athlete can do. Fortunately, I was ready for it. I had fulfilled my potential and beyond in the road cycling world and was ready for a new challenge. In 1984, I experienced a flash of insight, a gut feeling, the proverbial light bulb going off that I had found a sport that was mine. Cycling was in my blood from that time forward and I knew that it would never leave - just change forms. While I was still an elite athlete, I had begun my coaching certification process. I was 'coaching' a couple local athletes when I had the chance to be back home for short periods of time during the last couple years of competition. This was fulfilling in a way I had not envisioned as it brought me back to the root of the sport. I knew that I would probably coach after I stopped competing and thought that it would be with elite female athletes either on or close to making the National Team. That was what I knew best. I had raced in four World Championships, the Tour de France twice, prestigious World Cups (winning one and coming third overall in Tour de l'Aude) and the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. It seemed a logical step. Many years later, I am constantly amazed by where my sport had brought me and now, the places my coaching has taken me.

Even though I was ready to stop competing, I was still very interested in how my former team-mates were doing and getting news from that world. I was coaching several athletes at the time, one of whom was going to the Junior World Championships with the National Team. By staying involved in a peripheral way in the sport, it assisted my transition from athlete to…'someone else'. I loved being able to help athletes reach their goals and to learn from them how to become a better coach. Once I realized that my passion for my sport could be as fulfilling for me off the bike as it was on, I was hooked on making coaching more a part of my life.

In 1997, I was the manger for Team Ontario at the Canada Summer Games in Brandon, Manitoba. My daughter was four years old and it was a good time for me to branch out. I coached a local women's team prior to that and some individual athletes. It was in 2001 as a coach at the Canada Summer Games in London, Ontario that the bug really bit. My daughter was older so I could take more time to coach. And this is where the surprise came in the roster of athletes I coached began with a few elite women and then some local men and eventually grew to where I am now which is coaching athletes across the range of abilities, levels, experiences and disciplines both male and female. As I continue along this path, I have come to expect the unexpected.

My experience of having been an elite athlete is invaluable to me as a coach. I am a very experiential learner and hence a teacher. While completing the diploma program with the National Coaching Institute Ontario (Level 4), I also learned from the experiences of the coaches and instructors around me. I believe that the athlete never really leaves the person. That sentiment was reiterated when I was given the opportunity to coach the Junior National Team at the World Road Cycling Championships in Belgium. The moment we stepped on European soil, it was as if I had been there yesterday not fifteen years ago. My blood was stirred with many cycling memories from my racing career and hopefully the athletes benefited from my sharing of those experiences. "Just one more story, guys, really!"

But the stories I now talk about most with other people have changed for me immensely. They used to be about my achievements and adventures and have been replaced by those of the athletes I coach. It is simply amazing to me to watch these phenomenal athletes race whether it is never looking back in a race where another rider is following by 10 seconds and to win the race by over a minute the next lap or to watch someone come back from a disappointing finish one day and completely blow the field apart the next day to take the National Championships or to witness someone crack the 40 kph barrier in a time trial for the first time or to see someone take a risk and go solo only to be caught on the line … my heart is in my throat. Seen from an everchanging perspective, the ups and downs of this sport continue to be a part of my life. Cycling and coaching now course through my veins side by side.

Denise Kelly is the Canadian Olympic Women's Cycling Coach for the 2012 London Games. She is a personal coach to Provincial, Canada Games, National and International Champions and those aspiring to greatness on the bike. Denise and Marilyn Trout were training partners and members of the Canadian National Team during the 1980s and indeed have many stories to share of their adventures.

blog comments powered by Disqus

New to Cycling? Voler has you covered with training tips and gear to get you started.  Find out More