Champion’s Mojo Podcast: Penny Oleksiak On Gratefulness and Chasing a World Record


Champion’s Mojo Podcast: Penny Oleksiak On Gratefulness and Chasing a World Record

The co-Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle as a 16-year-old at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Penny Oleksiak emerged as a star for Canada. Oleksiak recently joined the Champion’s Mojo Podcast and shared your thoughts on a variety of topics. Below is an abridged Q & A of the interview, conducted by Champion’s Mojo hosts Kelly Palace and Maria Parker. You can listen to the full podcast episode #88 by clicking here or visiting the direct link at

Champion’s Mojo: How are you and how has quarantine been going for you?

Penny Oleksiak: I would say now I’m doing very well. I’m training on a pretty much regular training schedule and we have access to most of our resources right now, which is super awesome for swimming. My day to day life is just at the pool or at my apartment. Right now, Toronto is going through some closures, so we don’t have access to the weight room. We were in full lockdown quarantine in Toronto for about three months and it was definitely different. I think I adjusted to it. At first it was nice to kind of have that break. I was living at my apartment with my best friend, my boyfriend, and we would literally wake up in the morning, eat such good food, work out, and kind of just do our own thing every day. It was nice to do that. I think after a while I was kind of getting a little antsy and I just wanted to get in the pool. I’m glad that I’m finally back to regular swimming again.

Champion’s Mojo: Tell us about this exciting partnership with the Phelps brand.

Penny Oleksiak-2

Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Penny Oleksiak: It has kind of been a long time in the making. About a year. We were supposed to announce me joining the team sometime around like February or March. It just couldn’t happen because of COVID. They had a whole plan for it and it just had to keep getting extended and extended. All I wanted to do was announce that I was finally joining a suit brand. I couldn’t be happier joining the Phelps team. Everything about the team and what it stands for resonated with me. I want to grow as an athlete and as a person in the next few years which is kind of the same path that they’re on as a brand. I’m just really excited to be a part of the family now and get to work alongside Michael. I’m literally able to text and call him whenever I want for advice, which is super awesome, too, because it’s Michael Phelps.

Champion’s Mojo: What are some of the shared values that you have with the Phelps brand?

Penny Oleksiak: One of the main things is that the Phelps brand is really big on making swimming accessible to people of any kind of range of swimming. Anyone from rec swimmers and people swimming in their backyard pool, to competitive swimmers. Everyone really. I am really, really big on everyone having access to things, whether it’s sport, school, or anything. I’m especially big on people having access to swimming. I think that learning to swim is such a big thing, not just for sport but for water safety. That’s a big thing for me. Phelps makes a point of making it accessible for everyone. They have goggles for literally anyone that wants to swim. They have suits for anyone that wants to swim. They have amazing competitive suits for athletes. They have everything. So, when I got to sit down and talk with them and learn about the brand, I was just really excited.

Champion’s Mojo: I read that he suggested the book The Power of Now to you to read. What did that mean to you?

Penny Oleksiak: It came at a time when I was struggling a little bit. I was getting really frustrated with how everything was going for me. I feel like a lot of people have that or they’ll just have moments where nothing’s going their way and they get really frustrated and down about it. I called him up and I was talking to him about it. He was like, I’m going to tell you one thing right now, you need to read this book and, afterwards, tell me how you feel about your situation and what you’re going through right now. I read the book and it really just opened my eyes to appreciating what I have right now and appreciating where I am not worrying about what’s going to happen in the future. Now I kind of just take things a little bit slower day by day and I kind of let things happen how they are supposed to around me instead of trying to control the future.

Champion’s Mojo: What have your opportunities to compete been and have you considered attending university?

Penny Oleksiak: Well, for the first part of the question, right now in Canada, we don’t have any meets going on. That’s why half of our team right now at the Ontario High Performance Center competed in the ISL. The other half just wanted to stay back and wanted to kind of train through the year. We’re really lucky because we train at an amazing facility. We have two 50 meter pools which is amazing. It’s like constantly sparkling clean. It’s insane and nice. It was the center for the Pan Am Games in 2015. We get to use that competition pool literally day in, day out, every single day. Our coaches are able to set up days where we can go in and we can put on our racing suits and we can race. It would be nice to get out there and race other people, but we don’t have access to that right now. I am currently not in university. I was kind of going to look into it more after the Olympics and then they got extended. Hopefully afterwards I can start looking into it. I’m not sure about university just yet. It was definitely a big discussion in my house when I was like 16 after the Olympics. My mom was like, you have to go to a U.S. university, you have to swim in the NCAA. I was just so swamped with everything that was happening in my life after the Olympics that I could not see myself taking off and going to a university right away, especially in the States. I was traveling. I was doing interviews. I was doing photo shoots. It was a little bit crazy and hectic for me. For now I’m not sure where I’ll go to university, but it will get figured out eventually.

Champion’s Mojo: Can you tell us about what it felt like winning the Olympics?


Photo Courtesy: Singapore Swimming Federation

Penny Oleksiak: I remember I touched the wall and I literally stopped and I didn’t want to turn around right away. I think that was a big thing here. Everyone was talking about it. They were like, it took you pretty much like a minute to like, look. I touched and I just was trying to catch my breath and calm myself down. I was just telling myself I was trying to catch my breath. I was like, OK, you’ve had a really good meet and you cannot be disappointed with whatever place you just came in. I touched the wall and I was like, you put everything you could into that race. You cannot complain. You have three Olympic medals. Everything’s going to be OK. I turned around and I saw on the blocks they have like little lights. If you come in first, second, or third, it’ll light up. Simone (Manuel) was three lanes over from me and hers was first. And then beside her, I think was Sarah Sjostrom and hers had two. Then (Cate) Campbell beside her had three. I was like, OK, I didn’t get a medal, obviously. I turned around and I started reading from number eight. I worked my way up to seven. Then six, five, four, three, and to one. I was just in shock. It was just super crazy. I couldn’t believe it in the moment.

Champion’s Mojo: Can you take us through those first few weeks after winning?

Penny Oleksiak: I was kind of confused walking around Toronto, wondering why people were staring at me. My friends stood up for me like, why are you staring at my friend. I think everyone was a little confused and no one knew what to do when camera crews showed up to my high school. Me and my friends would be driving in from lunch with, like, music blasting and they’d want to interview us. I was really confused the first couple of weeks after. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really know how to carry myself that well just because I’m a 16 year old. I’m living my life doing my own thing. I’m trying to be normal. I’m trying to make friends and figure out who I want to be as a person. I think as time went on, and now like four years later, I think I’ve learned a lot. I think I’ve changed completely as a person. I wouldn’t say I was a bad person or anything before, but I’d say I’ve experienced a lot more now. I’ve gotten to go to Kenya and stay there for 10 days with my family and my best friend and learn about the culture there and learn about what everyone there is so appreciative of that we aren’t here. I think I’ve learned to be a lot more appreciative of everything that I have in my life. I have Michael Phelps’ phone number. Like, why the heck am I here right now? I just have to take a minute to kind of just think about it and really take it all.

Champion’s Mojo: What traits do you think champions share?

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Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Penny Oleksiak: I feel like I’ve met a lot of amazing athletes and amazing people. I think everyone I’ve met that is so great at what they do is so humble. I’ve met people that will praise me and I’m like, why the heck are you giving me praise? You’re an amazing athlete, amazing person. It’s just so wild to me. Every champion that I know is super sweet and grateful. They’re always genuinely such a good person. As far as I know everyone is, like I said, kind of appreciative. They have so much gratitude. I feel like every champion I’ve met is so nice.

Champion’s Mojo: What traits helped you get to the top of the podium?

Penny Oleksiak: I think I just have a certain kind of drive. It’s not about who has the biggest muscles or best speed, it’s about who wants it more. If you dive in the pool and you’re just thinking that it’s just another gold medal, then someone a lane over from you who wants nothing more than to win will find a way to try and beat you. I just always talk about the fact that sometimes, and I’d say most of the time, it’s about who wants it more.

Champion’s Mojo: How is your mindset and attitude on a daily basis?

Penny Oleksiak: I’d say there’s definitely some days where I’m like, do I want it? Do I want to wake up this morning and go to the pool and work really hard and come home dead? I’d say for the most part I definitely spend a lot of time thinking about how much I want world records. How much I want more medals. How much I want to meet my goals. How much I want to be able to perfect my stroke to make sure that it is the most perfect stroke in female swimming. That’s what I want. People always ask me like, OK, after you got your Olympic medals, what are you striving for now? I always say that I’m like, well, there’s more medals out there. I don’t have a single world record. I want one like crazy. I’m just going to keep working until I can get more and more and more and more.

Champion’s Mojo: How did having a mom that was a swimmer affect your career?

Penny Oleksiak: She never really pressured any of us into swimming. None of us ever really tried it out. I was a dancer. I did ballet. I did rhythmic gymnastics. I did gymnastics. I did all sorts of random things that had nothing to do with swimming. My brother did hockey growing up. My sister did figure skating, rowing, dance, everything. I just one day wanted to quit dance. My mom told me I had to pick something to do because it’s like, we’re not dealing with you having a crazy amount of energy at home. I just chose swimming and I was terrible at it. I remember my mom trying to teach me and my sister how to do butterfly in the lake. I did not know how to do it. I was awful. My mom took me to a bunch of competitive swim club teams and they kept asking me to do different strokes. I barely knew what breaststroke was. I didn’t know what the kick was like. I was so confused. One day I just had a coach take me in and, from then on, I loved swimming and I kept working to try and be the best that I could be at it.

Champion’s Mojo: What have you been doing to help your mindset during quarantine?

Penny Oleksiak: I’m in the process of constantly trying to figure out ways to improve things. I think right now I’m in the process of kind of switching up how I want to improve my mental performance and how I can go about that. I was really into reading over quarantine and that helped kind of calm my mind. Then, I got very into just listening to music. I would love to just lay in bed or sit in my living room and listen to music. That was super good for me. Now, I’m kind of in a transitional stage where I’m looking at different apps I can do that will help not only kind of ease my mind and help with mental improvement and everything like that, help to train my mind to think a certain way so I can achieve certain things. I do more visualization when I’m racing. That’s something that I’m kind of looking into and like a big thing everyone’s into right now is like manifestation and kind of training your brain to think certain ways so you can attract positive vibes.

Champion’s Mojo: What do you do to deal with anxiety?


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Penny Oleksiak: Yeah. I think, especially over covid and over quarantine, a lot of people lost their sense of self and their identity. Swimmers go into the pool every single day and they’re doing so much work all the time in their minds. All anyone asks them about is how is practice swimming going? I think we identify as swimmers. If someone were to ask what do you do? I’m a swimmer. Being in quarantine and everything and not going to practice every day and not coming home to have someone ask about practice, I kind of lost that sense of self and my identity almost. I struggled with the fact that I didn’t identify as a swimmer over those three months and I didn’t know how long it was going to go on for. I didn’t know, am I going to go a year without being a swimmer? After that, will I be a swimmer? I was kind of stressing about things in the future that I had no control over. That’s kind of when I was talking to Michael and when he recommended me the book and when my mindset kind of changed on things.

Champion’s Mojo: How was you mental health after winning gold?

Penny Oleksiak: I think I definitely struggled a lot after the Olympics. I mean, the first year afterwards, is an incredible high. It’s literally the only way is up. Everyone wants to meet you. Everyone wants to talk to you. Everyone is just talking about how great you were at the Olympics. It’s so amazing. I found, for me, the first year after the Olympics, my mindset switched from training all the time, to going from practice to an interview. My mindset kind of changed from swimming and just having fun with that and focusing on that to more of a business aspect of things. How do I grow my brand? How do I post on Instagram so that my followers will keep following me and then my following will grow. It’s a whole different mindset from what I was used to when I was 15 years old. Especially having that switch when you’re in high school, when you’re just figuring out who you are. When you’re 16 and you’re trying to figure out who your true friends are and then you have all these people that just want to know you because you’re famous. I think as I moved away from the Olympics I didn’t race as well. I was like, I need to perform. I need to prove myself every time I swim the 100 free because I won it at the Olympics. Now, I look at it as more of a confidence booster than a pressure. When I step up and they announce that I’m an Olympic gold medalist, I’m like, I am an Olympic gold medalist. I’m going to get in the water. I’m going to try my best. If I come in dead last then I’m going to go back to the drawing board. I’ve learned to not put as much pressure behind the Olympics anymore. It’s kind of a confidence thing now and it’s all about just changing my mindset and controlling what I can.

Champion’s Mojo: Tell us about your interesting injury in 2017?

Penny Oleksiak: I don’t know how many times this has happened, but we don’t even do it at the pool anymore.. We would do situps with medicine balls and it would go over your head and you’d throw it to the trainer and then on the way down you catch it and go back. I think it happened to me twice or maybe three times. I would go back and the medicine ball would slip through my hands and hit me in my head and my head hit like the tile on the ground. I got two concussions from that.

Champion’s Mojo: Do you have any hobbies outside the pool?

Penny Oleksiak: I’m really into kind of like fashion and design kind of stuff. I’m really into interior design. I love buying furniture and kind of updating my apartment. I literally moved from my old apartment to this apartment because I was like, I need a change of scenery. I need to redecorate a whole apartment. I love changing up like fashion and my apartment and everything like that. It’s just so fun for me. It kind of keeps my mind busy. When I’m outside of training. I can come home to my apartment to cozy and calm and I can just chill. I kind of like a modern, kind of minimalist vibe just because when I come home, I really just want to be able to calm down and have the space around me be calm and chill. When I walk around my apartment, I just feel like it’s so clean and I love it.

Champion’s Mojo: Are you generally a very neat person?


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Penny Oleksiak: I would say for the most part I want to be neat all the time, but I will let my apartment become a complete mess. I feel like when as the mess builds up, my anxiety builds up. Then, one day, I’m just like, I need to clean everything. I think this happened like a couple of days ago, like two or three days ago. I woke up for practice and my apartment was a complete mess. I spent like thirty minutes cleaning my whole apartment. I felt amazing. I came home from practice and I just laid down and it was the best thing. I probably had a great practice because of that.

Champion’s Mojo: What was one of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to get through?

Penny Oleksiak: I think kind of my biggest obstacle that I have gotten through, and I’m still kind of working to get through, is just the mental health aspect. Like I said, I’ll get anxiety over my apartment being messy. I’ll get anxiety going to practice knowing I won’t have any meets, as far as I know, until the Olympics. When I was younger, I struggled a lot with not knowing who my real friends were and figuring that out. Mental health has always been a thing for me, especially in the last few years. I don’t think it was something I really noticed a lot as a kid. I think I did have anxiety growing up, and I think it was something that was always kind of bothering me, but I never knew and I never really got it checked out. When the Olympics happened, it was like an overwhelming kind of anxiety. I was really frustrated over not being able to control things that were completely out of my control. I would put so much stress on things that I should not have stressed over it all, I remember one time in grade nine, I skipped a school class. We had like swimming class at school, and I skipped it because I had two practices that day. I got in trouble for skipping class, obviously. I literally could not stop thinking about it for like months because I was like, how could I skip a class? Like, I had anxiety over that. I think it was just something that I struggled with a lot. I’m very open about the fact that I struggle. It’s something I’m constantly trying to figure out. I feel like a lot of people are constantly trying to figure it out. It’s something that’s ever changing and you never know how long it’s going to last. It could last my whole life. It’s something that I’m just going to have to learn to kind of deal with or suppress or work around. For me, that’s OK. As long as I have good people around me that are supporting me. I’m very grateful for that.

Champion’s Mojo: Thank you for being with us today Penny and best of luck in 2021!

Penny Oleksiak: Thank you for having me! It was fun!

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