Having become one of the most successful Canadian Olympians in history, Penny Oleksiak is a sudden celebrity. Though just 16 years old, she now gets tweets from Drake, and will soon be swamped by sponsorship opportunities when she gets back to Canada.
But when Oleksiak returns to Toronto, the gold-medal-winning swimmer shouldn't expect any special treatment from her siblings.
Her older sister Hayley joked on Saturday that the first order of business when the family gets home after Penny's record-setting performance at the Olympics will be "just keeping her normal."
Hayley said she will do her best to give the youngest Oleksiak "that little bit of normality that a lot of people won't … just being the same way we were before."
It won't be easy. Oleksiak's performance in Rio de Janeiro has been one for the ages — she has won four medals so far with a chance at a fifth on Saturday night.
Oleksiak's four medals tie her with Victor Davis for the most won by a Canadian swimmer in the Summer Olympics, and give her the most by any Canadian at a single Summer Games. After tying for first in the 100-metre freestyle Thursday night, she became the first Canadian to win a gold medal in a swimming event since Mark Tewskbury in 1992.
"She's really shown that she's coming into her own," said Hayley Oleksiak, who has watched her sister perform in Rio. "We should respect that for her and kind of allow her to become who she is. But kind of help her with things, here and there, that she might need some guidance on."
Penny, who recently lamented on Twitter that she couldn't get tickets to a sold-out Drake concert, has suddenly learned what fame brings. On Saturday, the hip-hop star from Toronto tweeted back: "Can't wait to see you when you are back from Rio at a show."
The high school student's newfound celebrity is something the family is bracing for, though the Oleksiaks are no strangers to athletic success. Hayley is an accomplished NCAA rower at Northeastern University, while older-brother Jamie is a defenceman with the Dallas Stars who won world-junior-hockey bronze for Canada in 2012.
"All the attention she's been getting is a lot for anybody — let alone a 16-year-old," Jamie said. "I think we've always kind of done a good job that once we're in the household we're just a regular family and she's still our younger sister. She's just our younger sister — with some Olympic medals."
Oleksiak's mother, Alison, said it's not clear whether the multiple-medalist will be able to attend the Drake show. But it's not because she's not allowed — she could be competing overseas at the time, depending on the meets Swimming Canada decides to attend. Alison knows where her daughter wants to be, though.
"She's a teenager. I don't know what to tell you," Alison said, feigning the tone of an exasperated mother.
Going forward, Penny will be calling a lot more of the shots. Her performance in Rio will likely put her in demand for sponsorships. And beyond the Drake concert, Oleksiak could have some tough decisions to make in the coming months.
She will no doubt have the opportunity to swim for a big U.S. college if she chooses, where some of the best swimmers are recruited. That would also fit with the family history — her parents were athletes, and Jamie played hockey for a year at Northeastern.
However, due to NCAA rules on endorsements, Penny will have to decide soon whether or not to entertain sponsorship offers back in Canada, since U.S. collegiate athletes are barred from being paid through such deals. Still two years away from attending university, it's a choice she'll have to make now.
Alison said the family hasn't really decided which way they're leaning, or what Penny wants to do.
"Penny is the baby of the family and we've had a bit of a mixed bag in terms of our kids going NCAA and some of them staying home," Alison said. "She's got two more years of high school…. We'll talk I guess next week, or in the next couple of weeks, and see what she wants to do. But one thing is this is definitely going to be a family decision. It is not just going to be Penelope's decision, so she's aware of that as well."
Her success in the pool could bring a wave of sponsorship dollars into Canadian swimming too, if Oleksiak decides to stay in Canada instead of pursuing an NCAA career.
On Friday, Canadian swimming coach Ben Titley said he hoped the success Canada has achieved in the pool at the Olympics leads to corporate sponsors supporting swimming — not just Penny, but the whole program.
"I really hope that people in Canada and the businesses in Canada really step up and help our best athletes be successful at the next Olympics," Titley, who is a former British Olympic coach, told The Globe and Mail.
"Because for me it's a normal thing in the U.K. that this happens. But it seems like in Canada, it's ice hockey and baseball and basketball, and for everybody else it's: 'Oh well, who cares?' Well you should care. We've got a girl here who is something special. We've got a team here that could be something special. And I'm sure they've made all of Canada proud – but we need people to invest in these athletes."
The Oleksiaks spoke with reporters in Rio on Saturday afternoon as Penny prepared for her final race in Rio later that evening, the 4x100 medley relay final.
Given her medal wins, it is almost a certainty that Oleksiak will be chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony. Though nothing has been decided, her mother said the prospect may necessitate some different travel plans, since the family was preparing to leave in the next few days after swimming events wrapped up this weekend. Alison said they will meet with Canadian officials and may leave Rio as planned before flying back for the ceremony.
The family's focus has always been giving their kids balance, Alison said, not forcing them to pick one particular sport over another and not requiring them to train all the time. When the Toronto Raptors were in their playoff run this spring, Alison remembers Penny wanting to watch the games with her friends in the square outside the Air Canada Centre, dubbed Jurassic Park. Though her coaches wanted her at the pool early, Alison let her daughter go.
"She's a very typical teenager, and we've been very up front with any of the coaches she's had over the past couple of years that she is a teenager and there's going to be points through the year where, to be frank, she's going to want to go to prom, or she's going to want to come home and hang out with her friends, or she's going to want to eat a lot of donuts, because she loves donuts," Alison said.
"And that's going to not be in their plan, but for her to do the sport for a long time, the reality is she's got to have that balance."
As for how to contend with a daughter who has just rewritten the history books of Canadian sport?
"We're still stunned. We're a little bit in awe of the baby in the family at what she's achieved," her mother said. "And I'm a little panicked as to how I handle a teenager [with] that resume."