TransLink’s Alycia Butterworth competing at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

TransLink’s Alycia Butterworth competing at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

Alycia Butterworth and a colleague looking at a computer screen
Alycia Butterworth (left), a data scientist at TransLink and track-and-field athlete, represents Team Canada at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

TransLink’s own track-and-field athlete Alycia Butterworth is competing in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

When she’s not training, Alycia works as a data scientist in TransLink’s Data and Information department. Alycia has had an amazing race season leading up to the Olympic games. In June, she ran a personal best of 9:31.27 or exactly 1.27 seconds off the Olympic standard of 9:30.00!

Then, in her last qualifying race at the La Classique d’athlétisme de Montréal on June 29, Alycia clocked in with a time of 9:35:86, placing her second at the event. The finish would propel her to third in Canada in steeplechase and her qualifying points ranked her 39th in the world.

This earned Alycia a spot on Canada’s track and field team at Tokyo 2020. The team is made up of 33 women and 24 men who are competing across 29 of the 48 athletics events. It’s her first time representing Canada at the Olympics.

The Buzzer chatted with Alycia prior to her departing for Tokyo.

Alycia Butterworth — a Canadian Olympian. Has that sunk in at all? How proud are you of this achievement?

It has, but I don’t think it will fully sink in until I’m in Japan. This is the culmination of years of work and pushing through setbacks. To be able to have my fitness and racing come together to perform my best this year and qualify to represent Canada at the Olympics is an amazing feeling. I am beyond excited to be representing the maple leaf in Tokyo.

It really came down to the wire with your last event on June 29 and you were named to the team on July 3, eh? How did you find out that you’d be representing Canada at the Olympics? Where were you? What were you doing? Did you expect it?

Alycia Butterworth competing in steeplechase (Photo Credit - Antoine Saito)
Alycia Butterworth competing in steeplechase (Photo: Antoine Saito)

For track and field in Canada, the requirements to make the Olympic team were very clearly laid out, so I was fairly confident after my last race that I would be named to the team, but I had to wait and find out via the public announcement. When I found out, I was back home visiting my family.

What advice would you give to someone who has future Olympic dreams?

Keep balance in your life and love what you’re doing. There are many ups and downs throughout the journey, if you don’t love the sport you’re in AND if you don’t have other hobbies or strong relationships to keep you grounded through the ‘downs’ it will make it a lot harder to push through.

What is steeplechase? How did you get involved in it? What drew you to the sport? 

Steeplechase is like a long distance hurdles race, but with a few twists. Instead of hurdles, we jump over barriers that are the same height, but unmoveable, meaning if you hit a barrier, it doesn’t fall down – you do. And once per lap we jump over a barrier that has a pit of water on the other side. I would recommend searching it on YouTube to better understand it.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect training? Did it make it harder or were able to train more?

I am fortunate in that my training mostly consists of running and cycling, which can be done outside. There was an impact early on during COVID-19 when the gyms were closed, that I needed to create my own home gym to be able to do my strength training, but otherwise my training was largely unaffected. The biggest impact COVID had on me was cancelling race opportunities. However, because of the cancelled races, we were able to have longer periods of uninterrupted training to build fitness.

Now let’s talk about your career at TransLink. What does a data scientist do?

A data scientist uses data to solve problems, tell stories, and create better understanding about a topic. A couple examples of what data scientists at TransLink work on are using data to predict what will happen in the future (when will the bus arrive at its next stop? How many trips will be taken on transit next year?), to understand how customers are currently using transit and how transit use changes over time, and to analyze traffic and bus movement to increase speed and reliability of buses.

Would you be able to share one example where TransLink used data science to deliver an improvement to our customers?

I think the most well-known example is Next Bus, the real time bus updates projecting the actual ETA of the bus based on its current whereabouts, not simply the scheduled time of arrival. This project was implemented a few years ago, before I joined the TransLink team.

What’s it been like working, while also chasing your Olympic dream? How do you balance it all?

To be frank, it’s not easy and I don’t have very much spare time outside of running and work. I spend all of my lunch breaks training and then workout again after work. Fortunately, my work team is very supportive of my running, and my running teammates are supportive of doing our training outside work hours, which allows me to fit everything in. Working from home the past year has been tremendously helpful because of the time I save by not commuting to the office.

Other than running, what are your favourite hobbies?

I love the outdoors and being active in general. I train all year long, so I don’t have a ton of free time, but when I do, I like to go hiking, backpacking, kayaking, camping, or cross country skiing.

Any parting advice or words of wisdom?

Balancing a busy schedule is a lot easier when you love what you do. I enjoy both running and my job, which is what gives me the energy to be able to do both.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan open on July 23 and close on August 8. CBC airs the games on television and online at Follow @alyciabutters on Instagram as Alycia competes and documents her journey.

Alycia has been running since she was nine years old and participated in her first steeplechase event at 13 years old.

She ran competitively through two university degrees, including at the NCAA Division I level with the University of Idaho. Prior to the Olympics, Alycia competed internationally for Canada at the 2017 World Championships in London, UK; as well as other European, U.S., and Canadian events throughout 2018 and 2019.

Alycia trains with the Langley Mustangs Endurance and enjoys giving back to her community. Alycia donated the winnings from her recent second-place finish at this year’s Harry Jerome International Track Classic to help replace the deteriorating and unsafe track at her former high school in Parksville, B.C.

At TransLink, we’re immensely proud of Alycia and we wish her the very best as she competes in her first Olympic games!

Learn more