Gabby Paterson On Representing Her Family And Culture Through Sports

The RBC Training Ground National Finalist talks about how attending a custom RBC Training Ground qualifier event, and subsequently the National Final, helped give her the confidence she needed to keep pushing towards her Olympic dreams.


At just 16, Gabby Paterson is already on the fast track in Canadian sport.

The pentathlon and heptathlon athlete has been setting records since she was 10, prompting her and her family to leave their small hometown in British Columbia for St. Albert, Alberta near Edmonton, for more sport opportunities. Since then, Paterson hasn’t stopped climbing the ranks in sport. Paterson was named as a Top 100 RBC Training Ground athlete in 2023, earning her an invitation to the program’s National Final, where some of Canada’s highest potential future Olympians compete for funding and support. 

But it wasn’t one of RBC Training Ground’s many regional qualifying events—which are hosted in communities across the country and free to anyone between the ages of 14-25—where Gabby was discovered by the Olympic talent program. 

In 2023, RBC Training Ground partnered with several Indigenous sport bodies to host testing events for the athletes that would represent their provincial delegations at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). These custom events aimed to provide more access and opportunity to athletes from diverse backgrounds, in an effort to increase representation within Canada’s Olympic pipeline.

Paterson, a member of the Quatsino First Nation, attended a custom RBC Training Ground event for the Alberta delegation where she impressed Olympic talent scouts enough to get an RBC Training Ground National Final invite. Clearly it was well-earned, as Paterson won four gold medals at NAIG representing her province last year.

“It was an honour to represent my family and my culture at the Games,” she said. “And since being named a Top 100 finalist through RBC Training Ground, both experiences have really opened opportunities for me that I might not have had otherwise.”

Complex Canada caught up with Paterson to talk about her future Olympic goals, her RBC Training Ground experience, and her advice for young athletes. 

Did you grow up surrounded by sports? How did you first get into it?
I lived in a small town in British Columbia, so access to a variety of sports was difficult. Despite this, my brothers and I were always active growing up and found ourselves trying out any sport we could. The first sport I joined was gymnastics when I was four years old. I don't really remember why I wanted to try it, perhaps because all my friends were doing gymnastics, but that was my first introduction into sports, and I'd say I never looked back. Then, when I was around 12 years old, my family moved closer to Edmonton, Alberta for more opportunities in sports.

What were you were missing out on sports-wise growing up in a small town?
Growing up in a small town, we had different sports teams but there were not a lot of competitions going on. Or, if there were competitions, you'd have to travel a long way just to get to them. So, it was easier for my family to move to a larger city so that we could participate in more sport opportunities. I was doing track & field and gymnastics at the time, but I quit gymnastics at 14 to focus on track and that’s what I’m currently focused on. I won two national medals in a row, so I'm pretty set in training for the heptathlon outdoors and then the pentathlon indoors for a potential scholarship to a Division-1 school.

When did you start to think you had a future in track & field?
I was around 10 years old when I went to a Provincial Championship meet. I broke the 60-metre provincial record and the 60-metre hurdle provincial record and turned heads. My parents and I were surprised because I was quite young at the time and it was one of my biggest accomplishments to date. It’s a cool feeling to win something, and it makes you want to chase it that much more.

What are some of the biggest barriers you’ve faced in your sports career to date?
In addition to growing up with limited access to sports opportunities, I would say there are two things that have held me back—injuries and tough mental training blocks. There was a time when I struggled with shin splints, which caused me to take a complete break from training for five months. The injury was not only a huge physical challenge, but a mental one too. I had to be off my feet and I wasn’t able to train and compete. 

Similarly, the other barrier I’ve faced is around experiencing mental blocks, but this time it was learning to face my fear of big competitions. Competing at the RBC Training Ground National Final was a great opportunity for me to test my skills in a high-performance environment, to get experience and exposure, all while being surrounded by Olympic-level coaches and supportive RBC Olympians. I left feeling like I can achieve my Olympic dreams.

How did you get into RBC Training Ground? What was the experience like?
When I was selected to go to the 2023 North American Indigenous Games, our Team Alberta coach also encouraged our whole team to go to a custom RBC Training Ground testing event in Edmonton, Alberta. We looked to see how we would do in the Speed, Power, Endurance and Strength tests and to gauge our fitness. This customized event featured Indigenous athletes from across Alberta preparing for the games later that summer and even featured Indigenous RBC Olympians who cheered us on from the sidelines. We went as Team Alberta, and although I was initially unsure of what to expect with our group, when we arrived, I welcomed the opportunity. 

I did the testing with my brother for the fun of it but got a nice surprise when I was told that I was selected as a participant for the National Final in Toronto.  The RBC Training Ground National Final is where the Top 100 athletes from all across Canada are invited to compete in front of National Sport Organizations and key sport partners. Participants are selected for the event based on testing results, data gathered at all of the RBC Training Ground events, as well as subsequent sport-specific testing.

How has your life changed since becoming a Top 100 finalist at RBC Training Ground?
The RBC Training Ground National Final was an incredible event that I am grateful to have been a part of—it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was thrilled to compete because I have a huge passion for sport and would love to take my athletic career to the next level. To be named as one of the 100 finalists for 2023 was a really big honour, because it brought together some of the best young athletes in Canada and it helped me build my confidence in sport. The program is supportive and encouraging when it comes to matching you in the sport you have potential in. It’s so important to have someone in your corner cheering you on and supporting all the hard work you’ve put in.

What was it like participating in the North American Indigenous Games last summer?
It was exciting to be a part of something special. I saw a lot of value in having the opportunity to meet new people and to learn about their own unique journeys in sport. I got to celebrate and represent not only myself, but my family and my culture during a huge event. It was the biggest competition I’d been in up until now, so it was an overall awesome and unique experience.

What does an average day of training look like for you?
I train Monday through Friday and every day is a little bit different for me since I do both the heptathlon and pentathlon. Mondays are typically sprinting and hurdles, on Tuesdays we do high jump, and then Wednesdays and Fridays consist of weights, and then on Thursday we have a sole focus on the long jump. It’s a pretty busy and active week.

What drew you to a sport that consists of multiple events such as the pentathlon and heptathlon?
I like that it keeps you on your toes and every day is different. You switch up the routine of your training sessions all the time, which keeps it interesting, and it keeps you constantly active and challenging yourself—you don't get bored that’s for sure. There’s so many different events and physical skills you need to train for in the sport!

What’s your ultimate sports goal?
I have my eyes on the Olympics for sure—it’s been a life-long dream of mine. I also hope to get a Division-1 scholarship for track & field, but right now, I’m focused on training, improving my skills, and seeing where the world of sport takes me—one opportunity at a time. I had a unique experience at the RBC Training Ground custom event, NAIG and the National Final.  Rubbing shoulders with Olympians, sport experts and being chosen as a Top 100 athlete reinforced my confidence in what I can achieve.

What advice would you give to young athletes just getting started?
If you aren't seeing results that you want, or you have a bad game or competition, just stay positive and stay consistent in your training. RBC Training Ground events were a very cool experience for me, and I encourage other athletes to try it out because you get to meet so many people who are on similar sport journeys as you, and it puts you in the right direction to help you achieve your athletic dreams.

RBC Training Ground’s 2024 season is here, with free testing events across Canada to identify and fund future Olympians. For more information and to register for a qualifying event near you, click here. And don’t forget to follow @RBCTrainingGround on Instagram for updates and exclusive content.

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