Swimmer makes mark on world stage

Beach swimmer Penny Oleksiak won three solo and three team medals at the World Juniors last month – not bad for someone who only learned to swim six years ago.

“I’ve never ever done anything like this really,” said Oleksiak, who just turned 15.

“I didn’t even think I was going to finals when I first went there, so it was pretty awesome coming out with a few medals.”

Only a few of Oleksiak’s teammates had ever competed at the World Juniors before they flew to Singapore for the Aug. 25-30 championships. Held every two years, the event is open to girls ages 14 to 17.

Besides winning three silver medals in her solo events – including a personal best of 58:50 in the 100-metre butterfly – Oleksiak won a gold, a silver and a bronze in relay teams.

In the 4 x 200-metre women’s freestyle, her team actually posted a faster time than their senior counterparts.

Afterwards, Oleksiak got a message from Emily Overholt, the senior team’s fastest swimmer at the Toronto Pan Am Games.

“She’s really nice,” said Oleksiak. “It’s amazing to hear from someone who’s so good at swimming.”

Oleksiak got a relatively late start in swimming, learning in a neighbour’s backyard pool at age nine. Some of the people she races now have been in competitive clubs since they were five.

But Oleksiak comes from a highly athletic family.

Her brother Jamie played hockey for the Dallas Stars last year, while her sister Hayley rowed on a college varsity team in Boston.

Her father Richard made the Nichols School Hall of Fame in football, basketball and track, while her mother Alison set swimming records in Scotland.

It was after getting a few racing tips from her mom – tips not covered in a standard swim lesson – that Oleksiak started thinking swimming might be her sport.

Asked if the family competes much with each other, Oleksiak said no, not really, since they’ve all done different sports.

“When it comes to working out and stuff, then we’re really competitive,” she said, laughing.

“But when it comes to our sports I think we’re pretty supportive of each other – we go and watch each other and do our best.”

Oleksiak said she will definitely keep swimming for Monarch Park Collegiate when she goes into Grade 10 this fall. The school has great coaches, she said, such as Rob McCombe.

There and at the Toronto Swim Club, Oleksiak has another level of trials to look forward to this year – trials for the Rio Olympics.

But for the moment, anyway, Oleksiak has something completely different in mind.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying my last week and a half of summer,” she said.

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