Help Build an Olympian: Penny Oleksiak swimming healthy thanks to sports medicine
The Help Build an Olympian campaign has partnered with six Canadian Olympians. This Giving Tuesday, read their stories to learn about how the performance pillars propelled our athletes to Olympic success.
Penny Oleksiak became Canada’s most decorated summer Olympian of all time at Rio 2016 when she won four medals, including a gold, and broke an Olympic record. To top it off, she was named Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearer—the youngest ever. But, if she hadn’t had access to high-quality sports medicine following an injury in 2015, Penny may not have been able to compete.
The 16-year-old swimming phenom trains at the High Performance Centre– Ontario, spending 25 hours per week in the pool in addition to dryland workouts, attending high school, and a variety of public, media and charity appearances.
Though her name is now down in Canadian history, Penny didn’t make the Toronto 2015 Pan Am team. Instead, that year she attended the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Singapore; she collected six medals, but almost had to pull out at the last minute due to a broken elbow. The hospital put a cast on her arm, which would have prevented her from swimming.
“Fortunately the HPC-Ontario biomechanist (Ryan Atkison) recommended an alternative approach to treatment,” says Penny’s mom Alison. “They basically did physio and customized exercises so it could heal a bit faster and she would still be able to swim with it at Worlds. I think having access to those resources gave Penny the confidence she needed to compete with the best swimmers during an interrupted period in her training.”
The biomechanist took Penny’s arm out of the cast and helped her rehab in the pool—and the rest, as they say, is history. The sports science experts at the HPC, particularly the physiotherapists and massage therapists, also helped Penny acclimate to her height as she grew to 6-foot-2 over the past couple years. At times, Penny would suffer what her Mom calls “weird injuries” due to her rapid growth—they helped with that, too.
“It helps to be long in the pool; every extra inch helps. But it has also been hard keeping technique when my body keeps changing. I started butterfly two years ago when my arms got longer and I lost the feel for backstroke,” says Penny.
Alison says it would have been challenging for her family to afford the resources Penny has access to at the HPC, including the sports science support, if Penny wasn’t a funded athlete. Since she’s at the HPC, Penny doesn’t have to worry about affording the resources she needs, she can just do what she does best—win races.
She says, “Just to be able to have people there that whenever I got an injury or having aches and pains to help me out, it was really helpful. I have everything I need at the Centre, everything I could ever ask for. The facilities and everything are there and all the physio I need and basically everything, nutrition, that supports that.”