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Oleksiak inspiring to swimmers

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The extraordinary accomplishments of Canada’s newest Olympic heroine were not lost on Cassidy Roach.

The swimming exploits of 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak of Toronto, winner of four medals at the recent Summer Olympic Games in Rio, captured the attention of the nation.

Those who took note included several Fort Frances Aquanauts who recently took part in a swim camp held jointly here and in International Falls.

Roach, 14, followed the Olympic swimming closely and was exhilarated by what she saw.

“Team Canada doesn’t usually do this great,” noted Roach. “And for Penny, being just 16 and getting a gold medal, is really good, especially since she’s only two years older than me.

“She’s a huge inspiration to me.”

Aquanauts’ teammate Abby Douglas also marvelled at Oleksiak’s results.

“I was really surprised. It’s like Penny came out of nowhere and went on to win all those medals,” said Douglas, 17, who will be attending the University of Manitoba this fall.

“To see what she did means a lot,” added Douglas. “It showed you don’t always have to be the best at every meet, but as long as you keep progressing and getting better, that’s the important part.

“If you plateau for a long time, something has to change so you can do better,” she reasoned.

Fellow Aquanaut Jacy Gagne said it’s a good sign for both the present and future of Canadian swimming.

“The Americans are usually way up ahead in the medal count, but it was a great meet for Canada and all its young swimmers,” said the 14-year-old.

“Wait until 2020.”

Gagne said Oleksiak’s fantastic closing stretches of her races—including the 100m freestyle, when she went from seventh at the 50m mark to tying Simone Manuel of the U.S. for gold in an Olympic record time—struck a personal chord with her.

“I like to do that in some of my races, where I will take it easy at first and then build up to it,” she noted.

“Does Coach [Dawnn Taylor] like it? Not exactly,” Gagne laughed.

“But when I hit that 50m mark, that’s when I go full out.”

Taylor said Canada’s Olympic gains far surpassed anything the country has done in the pool at previous Games—something she said Swimming Canada should comprehend better.

“Seeing that Swimming Canada is planning to change the competition schedule for the next few years for limiting the time when you can qualify for nationals, maybe they should look at it again and see that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she stressed.

“I talked to a U.S. recruiter and he said because of the inspiration of the Olympics, there are a lot of young swimmers who are fired up to go past their age group and go into NCAA and CIS swimming.

“These new swimming stars have put the fun back in the sport,” added Taylor.

“It’s lots and lots of work, but the young swimmers have to remember to enjoy themselves and not get too tight when they get to a competition.”

Roach was absorbing whatever she could from the Games’ broadcasts, and hopes to put a trick or two learned from what she saw and heard in Rio to her advantage for the upcoming swim season.

“I have an issue of stressing out before I swim,” she admitted.

“But in the Olympics, all of the swimmers were completely mellowed out, listening to music before their races and not stressing.

“Seeing them do it makes me want to do the same thing,” added Roach.

“So I’ll probably be out there on the deck with my music, too, this year.”

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