2013 Dean’s List Finalist at the FIRST Robotics Competition Waterloo Regional. (Photo submitted/Krysta Peralto)

2013 Dean’s List Finalist at the FIRST Robotics Competition Waterloo Regional. (Photo submitted/Krysta Peralto)

‘I was absolutely hooked’

In Our Valley: Krysta Peralto

Krysta Peralto, 26, who prefers the pronoun ‘they’, was born in Kingston, Jamaica and spent the early years of life there.

At the age of six, parents Dane and Shelley Peralto moved the family to Canada so sister Tamya could receive cancer treatment at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto.

Unfortunately, Tamya passed away at the age of nine from neuroblastoma a year after the birth of brother Dante. Tamya’s memory is honoured with a tattoo of all her treatments on Peralto’s arm.

Starting school in Canada was difficult because of the differences with the system in Jamaica. Peralto was placed with their age group to improve social skills instead of a year ahead, something that would have matched their ability.

“The minute I started being put into a box I became very upset. When I came to Canada I thought I would have been in the first grade, I was in kindergarten,” said Peralto. “I didn’t want to play outside at recess, I would like to run around but I didn’t like to play, I wanted to read.”

Peralto was also put into school in the last two months of the year making the adjustment more difficult. They also struggled at home as they felt as though they were not being heard by their parents.

“I notice now that my parents provided everything materially, but I didn’t feel heard a lot of the time and I still struggle with that.” said Peralto. “That led me to want to make a change around how am I heard, if I’m not heard using my voice how can I be impactful.”

Peralto made themselves heard by getting angry and throwing tantrums when upset, shedding no tears.

Peralto did make their voice heard through a talent show where they sang Pat Benetar’s Heartbreaker. Peralto breezed through the audition process being recognized as an exceptional talent early on.

Fast forward to Grade 7 when Peralto once again got to showcase their singing talent. They were asked to sing Barracuda by Heart but ultimately chose Reptilia by The Strokes. It wouldn’t be until Grade 8 when Peralto found something that they were truly hooked on.

“I remember the robotics team showed up, the team I ended up joining, they did a presentation,” said Peralto. “I was absolutely hooked, my brain looked at that and said I can do math and science and have it be fun”

They decided to go to a public high school that had the robotics program in order to join the team and compete, a change from the original plan of going to an arts school.

“I said I was going to go to a public high school, I’ve already signed up but they had the robotics team, I want to go,” said Peralto.

Peralto knew there were many ways to learn to sing, but not many places that made robotics accessible. It was an opportunity to use math and science to create something.

In Peralto’s first year at the Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School, they were mostly observing before being given the chance to take on a task that was new for them.

“I got assigned the sustainability plan which now looking back I did not expect,” they said. “That intuitively she would have picked something that would have worked so so well for how I think.”

It was a difficult task but Peralto ultimately got it done on time and had it handed in. Peralto soon learned that they were the only one that met the deadline.

Peralto was handed another opportunity in Grade 9, getting to be the data inputter. It meant inputting the data coming from every scout into a spreadsheet to help the team analyze itt. However, Peralto’s brain was a step ahead of this spreadsheet collecting all the real-world data.

“Not knowing that my brain was going to do this. I catalogued every robot and how they did,” they said.

By the 10th grade, Peralto ended up as the junior captain for the robotics team. Throughout the rest of their high school experience, the robotics team experienced a great deal of success, eventually leading to an appearance at the 2014 robotics world championships. Peralto was also a Dean’s list finalist in both 2013 and 2014.

Peralto’s high school years were not without difficulty. In Grade 11 first their dad moved back to Jamaica and then their mom took brother Dante and moved to Europe. Peralto’s mom also stopped paying the bills, leaving the home without electricity or the internet.

Peralto did visit Shelley and Dante, in Europe, coming home for their Grade 12 year and living with a boyfriend and his family. Shelley came back to settle the bills and sell the house once Peralto finished high school.

They took an interest in engineering and applied for three universities, choosing Queen’s where Peralto completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering after a six year program.

It was not all clear sailing as Peralto struggled with addictions and mental health.

“Marijuana was my favourite thing,” Peralto said. “It was my drug of choice.” The addiction lasted throughout university and when Peralto tried to address it in school they were told it did not count as a real addiction.

Then in 2020 Peralto came to Kitimat to work at Rio Tinto in the automation department. Through Rio Tinto, Peralto was able to find a counsellor who told them that through Rio Tinto, addictions help could be obtained.

“I signed all the papers partway through November and then a day after my psychiatry appointment, I am on a plane to go to Cedars in Victoria,” said Peralto of a treatment facility there.

Five weeks were paid for by the company and then two additional weeks were paid for by Peralto. Upon returning to Kitimat Peralto did a couple of weeks of full-time work before realizing that they needed more time to adjust before full-time work was an option. Eventually, Peralto’s hours were reduced to allow for a more gradual return to work.

For Peralto’s mental health it was something they had struggled with through their whole life, “I didn’t know I had ADHD.” It was something that Peralto began addressing while in school and would not be officially diagnosed until May 2021. It was something Peralto learned to address themselves.

Even though life can sometimes be difficult Peralto, said they have found a place that is reminiscent of Jamaica.

“That was something I realized was that part of why I like it out here. It does remind me a lot of Jamaica,” said Peralto.

Peralto has now left Rio Tinto, working remotely in Kitimat as the co-founder and Chief Team Infrastructure officer of a start-up company called CarbonGraph which has its headquarters in Toronto. It creates software making it easier for people to measure their carbon footprint.

Despite the challenges of a new venture, Peralto has not forgotten their robotics roots and is a proud mentor of Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School’s own robotics team, Team 19769.

They are also a devoted advocate for people doing what they love.

 

2018 FIRST LEGO League World Championships Master of Ceremonies in Detroit. (Photo submitted/Krysta Peralto)

2018 FIRST LEGO League World Championships Master of Ceremonies in Detroit. (Photo submitted/Krysta Peralto)