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Penny Oleksiak A Class Act

Updated on August 12, 2016
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

Penny Oleksiak Redefines What's Possible

After six days of the Summer Olympics in Rio, one thing has become clear: Penny Oleksiak, at 16, has shown kids everywhere that what is possible is everything.

"I feel pretty good," she said in the lead up to Canada's 4X100 metre relay in the pool earlier in the week. "I'm excited to be going in third for semifinals. I didn't expect that but now I'm just going to get ready for tonight."

“I think everyone dreams about becoming an Olympic champion. It’s definitely something I thought of, but not super seriously,” she said, according to Sportsnet.

Oleksiak might be right - there are several young athletes with high aspirations to become champions - but there have been a few times throughout these games where the 16-year-old has alluded to the world not seeing just yet what the Canadian team can actually do.

What's really cool is that Oleksiak was expected to simply get comfortable with the omnipresent television cameras and the bright lights at these Olympics with an eventual eye towards Tokyo. Her coach, Ben Titley, said that with her "extremely long legs" she has overleapt a couple of steps and soared beyond all expectations people have had of her in these Games.

There are now young kids looking at Oleksiak and thinking that she has shown everyone that anything is possible, in a way that no one else maybe has done before. She's come out to the blocks, smiling and seeming relaxed, waving politely to the crowd before getting into the pool and completely blowing people away.

Oleksiak is also very athletically gifted, at least as far as swimmers go; hovering somewhere between 6'1" and 6'2", with broad shoulders and a narrow waist - and that reach! - she seemed almost predestined to hit the pool and make waves. She also comes from a family of athletes; much has been made of her brother Jaime's role with the Dallas Stars and sister Hailey being a rower with Northeastern University in Boston, but the youngest Oleksiak child came into the Rio Games with the belief of "let's see what happens."

What has happened so far has been literally pure gold.

With medal results that continue to improve - first bronze, then silver, then Canada's first Olympic gold in these games - Penny Oleksiak has shown everyone that she may be a kid, but she's a kid with a lot of talent.

A lot of composure, too. While it might be easy to dismiss Oleksiak as just another 16-year-old, she's also shown adults who might be willing to dismiss teens as thoughtless that there are teens who are thoughtful, well-spoken and mature.

Look at her Twitter feed, and it's pretty plain to see the gratitude that Oleksiak has to be doing what she's doing. There are pictures with friends, as might be on anyone's profile, but there's also a sense of humbleness as she expresses gratitude for the support she's gotten throughout all her performances at the Games.

There are kids looking at her now and asking their parents if they can start lane swimming.

Kids who are now working that much harder at the sports they love.

Penny Oleksiak is by far not the only Canadian Olympian at these Games, but by the same token, she's one of the few that youth can connect with and realize that all things are possible because she has shown them that anything is indeed possible.

Penny Oleksiak Ready to Rock


Humble and Likely in Shock

Penny Oleksiak is trying to take everything in stride, which is tough to do when you're just 16.

Here's the deal - she knows the life she's chosen thus far is not easy. Most kids her age are striving for their driver's license or getting ready to start dating. Winning medals, let alone Olympic medals, is far off the radar, as is television and radio interviews.

Yet now, Oleksiak is coping with the eyes of a nation, and she appears to be doing so quite nicely. By all accounts, her teammates, all of whom are older than her, are protective of her, and she has been fielding questions calmly and with a maturity that belies her age. While she does acknowledge the personal effort she puts forth, she appears to put the team and her family first, which is an incredible feat for someone so young.

She knows that while she is the one in the pool slugging it out and churning through her races, she's also not the only one on the team. That's pretty cool and is a great lesson for others about the importance of teamwork.

There's got to be a part of Oleksiak, though, that is looking at her four medals right now and going, "Squee! I just won four medals at my first Olympics!" She is, after all, just 16, and there's got to be an incredible sense of WOW surging through her as each medal win sinks in.

Never mind her new place in history. She's Canada's first Olympian to win four medals in a single Summer Games, and her name has been linked with the likes of Michael Phelps as far as potential for history making Olympic efforts goes.

That's a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a 16-year-old high schooler.

Hopefully her family, which has been in Rio all week watching her defy expectations in the pool, will continue to keep her grounded as she continues her Olympic efforts.

It's all anyone can expect - even Olympic teens.

Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel - Two Incredibly Happy Olympians


Penny Oleksiak's Gold Medal Win


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