There are few things that Penny Oleksiak has yet to accomplish in her young career.
Oleksiak, who turns 23 next month, holds the record for all-time medals by a Canadian Olympian, having picked up seven podiums in the pool over the course of the last two Olympic Games.
But while it’s still 436 days away from the start of the Paris Olympics next summer, Oleksiak overcame a major step in her road back to glory as she returned to the racing scene this week after suffering a meniscus tear this past fall.
Competing in the 50m butterfly and 100m freestyle events on Wednesday at the Mare Nostrum event in Barcelona, Oleksiak placed 16th in both events, her first competition since last year’s World Championships in June.
“I’ve really just put a big importance and a lot of pressure on just listening to my body, taking time for myself and making sure that I’m able to kind of get through every day really productively,” Oleksiak said in an interview with Daily Hive earlier this month. “We’re just kind of trying to see how hard we’re able to push me in the pool before I get pain or something like that. So we’re just being really cautious.”
While she missed the Canadian Swimming Trials earlier this year due to the injury, Oleksiak has her sights set on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Japan, taking place this upcoming July.
“I’ve been recovering really quickly,” Oleksiak added. “We’ve kind of just been taking our time with it just because the Olympics are still over a year away. So I have a lot of time to prepare for it. But we just want to make sure that these injuries are going to recover fully and not come back.”
As for the mental aspect of her recovery, Oleksiak believes that’s always been a strength of hers.
“I feel like I’m the type of person that moves on from things really quickly,” Oleksiak added. “I was in a leg brace for a while and my friends were saying they were like, ‘Oh, you were in a leg brace for so long and then all of a sudden you just weren’t and we never talked about it.’ It just kind of happened. So I think that’s kind of how I live my life. I just kind of let things flow as they’re supposed to and control what I can.”
One of Oleksiak’s recurring involvements has been a partnership with the Royale Home for Every Pet Project, which offers awareness and funding to get pets from animal shelters into Canadian homes each year.
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Oleksiak said her own dog Franklin always “brightens her day,” and that was a big reason for her involvement in the project.
“I think it’s pretty close to my heart,” Oleksiak said. “I had a really good time just kind of getting the message out and going to shoot with Franklin and everything.”
And though animals have been a big part of her life growing up, Oleksiak thinks she’s at a personal capacity for ownership as of right now.
“If I got another animal, [my parents] would probably disown me,” Oleksiak joked.
A friendly rivalry
While Oleksiak has been a household name since 2016, swimming fans have also quickly gotten to know the story of Canadian 16-year-old Summer McIntosh, who set the world record 400m freestyle at a time of 3:56.08, as well as winning the 400m individual medley in a time of 4:25.87, at the Canadian Trials earlier this year.
While she didn’t medal in the 2021 Olympics at just 14 years old, McIntosh picked up a pair of gold medals at the 2022 World Championships in the 200m butterfly and 400m medley.
Thinking about this photo. Taken at the Olympic trials in 2016.
Penny Oleksiak was 16. Summer McIntosh just 9 years old. Summer’s sister Brooke also there.
Today they stood on the podium together at the world championships.
Swimming superstars for Canada. pic.twitter.com/ZnePRnempn
— Devin Heroux (@Devin_Heroux) June 22, 2022
“I think she’s like the sweetest girl ever, but she’s also so insanely talented. But that aside, I hate when people say that people are talented,” Oleksiak commented on McIntosh. “I think she’s an incredibly hard worker. And I’ve seen her training over the last few years and she just is always ready to put in work.”
As for the friendly competition between the two? Oleksiak thinks both of them thrive off it.
“I love that there’s someone that fast in Canada, because it gives me someone that I can really strive to, like, push myself and see how fast I can get and in turn, it’s going to help her and she’s going to help me. The faster we both get, we can just see how fast Canada can get, which is fun,” Oleksiak said. “She’s always ready to push the envelope but I think as much as we do compete against each other, I think that’s how we push each other.”
Whether it’s McIntosh, Oleksiak, or any other of Canada’s strong swimming talents, the sky is the limit for the future of Canadian swimming.
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