Road To The Olympic Games

Aquatics

Penny Oleksiak leaves pool for school after Olympic dominance

Star swimmer Penny Oleksiak says her first day back at a Toronto high school has allowed her to get back to a normal life after winning four medals at the Rio Olympics several weeks ago.

Toronto student, 16, happy to see friends after winning 4 medals in Rio

Rio Olympics swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak returns to Toronto high school 2:35

Penny Oleksiak is kind of a big deal at her high school.

The star swimmer, who won four medals at the Rio Olympics, returned to class on Tuesday as she enters grade 11, but her recently found fame is something she's playing down.

"I don't think I'm a celebrity," she said with a big smile. "I think everyone knows me already."

Oleksiak is a bona fide celebrity after this summer's medal haul, which culminated in carrying the country's flag at the closing ceremony. It is an issue that school officials have been discussing over the past few weeks.

Toronto's Monarch Park Collegiate decided to hold a news conference on the first day of school with the hope that normalcy will return to Oleksiak's life by the second day of school.

After a bit of chit-chatting in the office, Bryan McAlpine, the school's head of athletics, decided to take a different approach: he asked if the star athlete still planned to keep score in volleyball games, something she did last year.

"For sure I'm going to," Oleksiak said.

We were nervous about Penny coming back and having to teach a celebrity, but it took two minutes to speak with Penny ... to realize this is kind of a normal place for her.- Bryan McAlpine, head of athletics, Monarch Park Collegiate

"This is going to sound really bad and I don't think I'm going to say it, but I'll say it: it's another opportunity to hang out with your friends during school. It's fun to score keep especially when my friends are playing volleyball — it's awesome."

Oleksiak's answer to McAlpine came as a relief to principal Cynthia Abernethy, who believes the 16-year-old student will easily slide back into high school life as a student.

"We were nervous about Penny coming back and having to teach a celebrity, but it took two minutes to speak with Penny to get back at ease and to realize this is kind of a normal place for her," McAlpine said.

"We like to think we're helping her in that role."

There is a balance, Abernethy said, because they also want to applaud her successes. They've posted some of the media articles about her Olympic performance and will likely acknowledge her feats at an upcoming assembly, Abernethy said, but will otherwise focus on school life.

Oleksiak says she's looking forward to science classes and is glad she doesn't have any upcoming arts classes.

"As of tomorrow, Penny goes back to four periods a day and we're going to crack that whip," Abernethy said with a laugh. Oleksiak is set to take science, math, law and another course — she couldn't remember what she picked.

She said she has a week or two off before swimming ramps up again, so she'll go to the beach and hang out with friends after class in the meantime.

Oleksiak is also planning to keep her social media profile consistent, even though she has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram.

"I'm just trying to keep my Instagram the same and post funny captions and everything," she said.

Broadcast Partners

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.