This story was orignally published in March of 2023, but we're revisiting it as part of our Sunday Read series.
It’s 5 a.m. on a Tuesday in late-November and the McIntosh sisters are already awake for another day of training.
There’s just one glaring difference.
Summer, 16, is in a swimsuit getting ready to jump into the outside pool in the warm water of Sarasota, Fla. She relocated from her Etobicoke, Ont., home to prepare for an 18-month stretch that will see her compete in a world championship this summer in Japan before the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Brooke, 18, is back home in Canada bundled up in winter gear walking through the snow for another chilly training session at a rink in Mississauga, Ont. A national pairs figure skater, Brooke is just days away from her own world championship in Japan. It will be her first trip to worlds with partner Benjamin Mimar after the duo won silver at nationals in January.
What this pair of extraordinary Canadian sister athletes is going through is something few people could wrap their heads around. Their time together is limited now as they chase their individual sporting dreams around the globe.
But for as hectic and busy as their lives have quickly become they prioritize FaceTime calls as much as possible to stay in touch with one another.
Those calls have very little to do about their respective sports.
Summer sits back on the couch in the rented Florida condo she is sharing with her mom, Jill, and dials. Brooke, seated comfortably in the family home in Etobicoke where she is staying with dad, Greg, answers.
“How are the cats?” Summer asks.
It’s a perfectly logical opener for two teenage sisters who, despite their growing accomplishments on international athletic stages, are exactly that – teens at heart.
“We just talk and chill and just enjoy each other's company as much as we can,” Summer says of her update on Riley and Mikey, the latter cat named after swimming great Michael Phelps.
“Brooke and I have a lot in common and it's fun just to kind of have another athlete understand what you're going through.”
In the past 18 months Summer has competed in an Olympics, two world championships and a Commonwealth Games, along with many other meets across Canada and the United States.
Summer is just a week away from competing at the national trials at the Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough to earn a spot on the Canadian world swim team, the same place where she secured her first Olympic team spot two years ago at just 14 years old.
She’s won 13 medals, including five gold, six silver and two bronze between last summer’s world championship and the Commonwealth Games. She also holds six short course and long course world junior records.
Summer also captured four medals at the World Cup event last October at the Pan Am Sports Centre — including beating the great Katie Ledecky in a riveting 400-metre freestyle showdown. McIntosh set a new world junior record, World Cup record, Americas record, and Canadian record during that race.
The swimming sensation has been called a once-in-a-generation athlete and breaks national and world records nearly every time she’s in the pool. The anticipation for her Paris 2024 Olympic performance is building.
Brooke’s resume is also stacked. At just 15 years old, she earned a trip to the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland with then-partner Brendan Toste. During those Games the two put forward a season-best performance to place fourth.
Toste retired from skating shortly after that, but it didn’t take long for Brooke to find the partner she hopes to compete with at the 2026 Olympics in Italy.
Brooke teamed up with Mimar just weeks before the pandemic. It didn’t make for the easiest transition in the early days, but now the two are considered one of Canada’s most dynamic and exciting pairs teams.
They broke the Canadian junior pairs record to win their first national title as a team in January 2022. Not long after that they competed at their first international event, where they won that title as well in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Their breakout moment on the senior circuit came this season while competing in their first Grand Prix event in Sapporo, Japan.
Brooke and Mimar put forward a season-best performance to capture bronze in late November. They then placed second in January at the Skate Canada national championships.
With the clock ticking down until not only the next summer Olympics in 2024 but also the Winter Games in Italy three years from now, both sisters have set their sights on representing Canada.
The two appear unflappable, steely-eyed and intensely focused, before, during and after each swim and skate – at just 18 and 16 years old, Brooke and Summer are mature beyond their years.
That unspoken understanding of what it takes to be the best in sport and the respect they have for one another has allowed Brooke and Summer to thrive – they have a safe space to land when things don’t always go according to plan during competition.
Brooke essentially has the family home to herself most days as Greg flies around the world for business. Summer and Jill moved down to Florida last summer so that Summer could take her training to the next level.
They can all count on one hand how many times they’re all together in a year – texting and FaceTime calls fill the gaps in between. It’s something they’ve all accepted as a family and are massively supportive of each other.
They also have Jill working behind the scenes keeping it all together.
Like clockwork, every Sunday night before the McIntosh family members put their heads on their pillows to end another week, there’s just one more task to complete: check over the spreadsheet put together by Jill outlining the next week’s to-do list – it’s a detailed schedule for Greg, Brooke and Summer.
The wife, mom and former Olympic swimmer now plays the role of family manager. It’s the reality of a high-performance family travelling the world, chasing career and athletic dreams.
“I'm kind of the mastermind behind making sure everyone sees everyone, all that kind of stuff. I have a calendar and then I send it out each week and I'm like ‘review your thing and make sure I've got it right.’”
“It's all colour coded,” Jill says from her new residence in Sarasota.
“It's been kind of a family jigsaw puzzle. I think Brooke and Summer are the ones that are the trickiest.”
Greg still has a hard time wrapping his mind around how his two little girls who were splashing in the water at their cottage in the Muskokas just 10 years ago have become powerhouse Canadian athletes.
“When your daughter is a world champion at 15 years old, your heart explodes when you see them standing there. And when you see Brooke standing there on the podium with her partner and the Canadian flag, it's the level of pride you have that your heart wants to explode,” Greg says.
“I am unbelievably proud to be a Canadian. I always have been. And to see your kids compete and win for your country is just an unbelievable feeling.”
And while there is so much pride around what Brooke and Summer do on the ice and in the pool, Jill is most proud of the people they are becoming outside of their sports.
Two sisters who took entirely different sporting paths, who bring the same level of fierceness to everything they do in the pool and on the ice, and who have each other to lean on through it all.
“I just think they're wonderful, caring human beings,” Jill says.
“They both have amazing sets of friends. And that’s the goal, is to help create a great person who is kind and a good teammate. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
What they all have in common goes beyond their natural athletic abilities and dedication to pursuing their dreams. They are part of a family unit that has put high performance at the forefront of how they live.
Greg and Jill, who competed in swimming at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, have done everything they can to ensure their daughters stay focused on sport but don’t lose sight of fun, friendship and family.
They all have their role in the family and play those roles perfectly. Greg is a little more behind the scenes, however. As Brooke and Summer focused on training, Greg was thrust into the spotlight during the pandemic.
He was fighting his own battle. Diagnosed with cancer, Greg was living alone to ensure health and safety, Brooke was also living alone, and Jill and Summer were living together in another location.
Jill was running between skating and pool practices while trying to keep the family together.
As a family they don’t really talk about that time much anymore. When asked about it, Greg quickly responds by saying “I’m good,” and that’s about it.
“Happy to have all of my health challenges behind me,” he adds.
It was a scary time for the entire family, including Summer who was in the middle of her first Olympic trials trying to stay focused on making the team while her dad battled illness.
“My dad means the world to me. He's the best. Behind the scenes he’s supporting all of us and he's so proud of what we've been able to accomplish. I'm also very proud of what he's done for all of us and I'm so grateful for all he's done,” Summer says.
Greg is now cancer free.
“We're beyond blessed,”Jill says. “And we're just looking forward.”
During this past Christmas the McIntosh family was able to get together for a few days. Jill and Summer had just arrived back from the warm, sun-drenched beaches of Sarasota – Summer’s hair was electric blonde from swimming outside under the sun for hours each day.
For as gifted as the athletic Canadian sisters are in their respective sports, at home together they are just a couple of ordinary teens scrolling through their phones looking at their Instagram timelines.
Together, the sisters can just exhale for a moment, knowing exactly the toll this all takes of wanting to be the best.
“We're a normal family at home. We joke, we have dinner together. We're never putting pressure on each other. We're always there to support each other, good days and bad days,” Brooke says.
The two are lying on the couch in the living room immersed in their phones, comparing notes on fashion, movies and the latest drink the Kardashians are enjoying.
“Usually we're watching movies or shopping, stuff like that. It kind of takes my mind off swimming and probably skating for her as well,” Summer says, looking up from her phone.
In the public eye the two sisters are rather reserved, sometimes making it difficult to read what they’re really feeling and thinking. But behind the scenes Brooke says Summer is actually the jokester in the family, something the outside world rarely gets to see.
“She's definitely a character. She's very goofy. She's really funny. She definitely makes people crack up the most at home,” Brooke says of her younger sister.
“We're both very serious when it comes down to our sports. But at home she can definitely let loose.”
The four of them start talking about how competitive they all are – Greg starts telling a story about Summer when she was in the third grade, and that early on they knew she was going to be a racer.
The family has heard this one before and starts laughing even before Greg shares more details.
“She was worried about passing the pace bunny of the track and field finals in Grade 3. We were at the starting line and she called her mom over and said, ‘Mommy, what happens if I pass the pace bunny? I won't know where to go,’” Greg says, laughing.
“And we had to explain to her that the pace bunnies are adults and they will be able to keep ahead of her. And she’s been chasing down the pace bunny to this day.”
The dynamic duo have had to grow up quickly while trying to balance life and sports, the reality of training and competing at the highest level, and facing the questions of journalists after each event.
But right now the most pressing question is if the two can head to the mall together for a shopping trip to search out the latest fashion.
“I think I'm more into clothing and she's more into bags and accessories and stuff,” Brooke says.
“We're just there for each other because we're going through it at the same time, so we know how it is. We don't really talk too much about skating and swimming. We can talk about things that happen around it, but we never compare each other.”
They have an unwavering support for one another that has allowed Summer and Brooke to thrive.
“My sister is the best. Obviously we had to kind of go our separate ways because I love swimming over skating, but to this day we're so supportive of each other,” Summer says.
“So proud of what each other has been able to accomplish, and I think we'll continue that forever. And I'm so grateful and proud of her and she's done so much and she will continue to do so.”
Summer’s transcendence in the swimming world has made international headlines over the past couple of years. She catapulted into the spotlight during the Tokyo Olympics at just 14 years old, the youngest member of Team Canada competing at the Games.
Summer turned heads there when she swam to a notable fourth-place finish in the women’s 400m freestyle event.
Since then she’s been putting the swimming world on notice that Paris 2024 is going to be her Games.
She’s now feeling right at home training at the Sarasota Sharks Facility.
“If you asked me two years ago if I'd be living in Florida basically full time, I wouldn't believe you. And to have this opportunity is really special,” she says, standing on the beach as waves washed up on shore.
“It's incredible every single day. Just to know that this is kind of at my disposal to come here with my friends and family. It's amazing.”
But make no mistake, this is not a vacation for Summer.
Her alarm is set for 4 a.m. each day for practice. She jumps out of bed, eats a quick breakfast, usually a smoothie or banana bread, fills up a two-litre water bottle and heads to the black Range Rover sitting in the garage where her mom Jill is waiting.
“My mom's incredible. Everything she's been able to do for me and organizing so much for me on a daily basis and moving me down to Florida, it was definitely not an easy task,” said Summer, who does not yet have her driver’s license.
“And also the day-to-day grind, driving me every morning, picking my friends up to go to the pool, driving us home.”
Head coach Brent Arckey, who has been with the Sarasota Sharks program since 2010, is now tasked with helping Summer live up to her potential.
He patrols the deck like a football coach scanning the sidelines during practice.
Arckey doesn’t say much, but when he does, the swimmers listen – it’s little things like “turn your chin this way” or “turn your toes that way.”
Arckey treats every swimmer at the Shark Tank the same, despite knowing the level of talent he’s dealing with when it comes to Summer.
“I try hard to not lose perspective, that it's just another person. You've got to treat them as the whole person, not just the swimmer,” Arckey tells CBC Sports.
“As I told the McIntosh family, I'm humbled that this is where they want to be. I appreciate the trust that they have. And listen, there's no lack of pressure on me either.”
Summer goes from breaststroke to backstroke, freestyle to butterfly without pause. It’s a relentless and arduous training session that she does six times a week, two times each day.
“She is very deliberate about what she does. She knows exactly what she's doing. And that's probably what makes her really good, is she's never doing something by accident,” Arckey says.
For as intense and focused as Summer is each training session, she’s also having fun. With a group of swimmers her age with the same goals and dreams as her in the pool, the teen from Canada says she’s right where she wants to be.
“There's a bunch of girls and guys down here that I've started to get really close to and get to know really well, and they're also going to be travelling on the world stage and that's really exciting for them and I'm very proud of all of them and what they've accomplished so far,” Summer says.
She also has a secret weapon: one of the most accomplished strength and conditioning coaches in the world.
Vern Gambetta is considered the founding father of functional sports training. He’s worked with Olympic champions, football champions, track and field greats, hockey superstars – Gambetta has literally written the book on this type of training.
More than five decades later, now in his 70s, he’s found himself in Sarasota helping create swimming superstar Summer McIntosh.
After all those years, Gambetta knows greatness the second he sees it.
“She has that steely eyed look like a Michael Jordan or somebody like that,” Gambetta says, not shying away from lofty praise.
“I don't want to put pressure on her, but the champions have that. … she's got that.”
Whether it is a practice, a national championship, world championship or the Olympics, Summer approaches each push off the blocks like she’s competing in the most important race of her life. She is poised and composed through it all.
That outward calm in the face of pressure and expectation is something Andrew Evans saw early on not just in Summer, but in her sister Brooke.
The older sister’s coach and a former figure skater himself remembers the first time the pair showed up at the rink – when they were just six and eight years old.
“It was right around Halloween and they showed up in costumes. Brooke was dressed like a little witch and she was coordinated enough that she didn't need to be wearing a helmet,” Evans recalls.
“And then Summer skates by and she’s got a helmet on and she's pushing with only one foot, kind of like on a skateboard. She zooms by super fast. Eventually I coached them both, but from the get-go I knew I wanted to coach Brooke.”
For the last 10 years, Brooke and Andrew have been through it all. The respect and trust they have for one another is evident by the way they communicate on the ice during practice.
On an early morning in December, Brooke, skate partner Mimar, and Andrew were inside the Canadian Ice Academy in Mississauga.
This is where the trio spends countless hours every week, exhaustively going over every second of their short and long programs trying to get every turn and twist perfected.
A number of banners hang on one of the back walls of the ice complex with Brooke McIntosh’s name on them going back to 2017, when she was just 13 years old at the time.
Three years after teaming up with Toste, the duo earned the right to represent Canada at the Youth Olympics in Lausanne in 2020.
It was the first time Brooke would get a real taste of elite international competition. And she and Toste put forward a season-best performance to place fourth, just off the podium.
Not long after that performance, Evans announced Toste would be retiring from figure skating to focus on university. That’s when McIntosh teamed up with Mimar to form this current partnership.
“It's like a dating game. But you're not dating,” Mimar said, laughing.
“You know what I mean? Like because you have to practically be living together because of how much time we spend together. It was also hard because at the beginning my English wasn't really good, so trying to talk with Brooke my sentences were not making sense at all. But it got better. My English is good now,” says the Quebec-born skater.
In some ways, Mimar is like Summer in that they both like to joke around and keep things light. It’s something Brooke appreciates because of her overly serious nature.
“I took the opportunity with Ben because I obviously competed against him for a while so I knew that he was good and what he was capable of and I'm glad I took the chance,” she said.
“I think Ben definitely brings more of the goofy side to skating, but when it comes down to it and when we have to be serious, he's very serious. We're a good blend. If it was one way or the other, we probably wouldn't have as much success.”
The time change will make it difficult for Summer and family to keep tabs on her sister’s world championship performances in Japan at worlds, but Summer has already taken to Instagram to post how proud she is of them being named to the team, something she does after every one of Brooke’s performances.
“It definitely makes me feel good. It's nice to see how much she supports me, and I support her too. It's heartwarming. That's how I would put it,” Brooke says.
Brooke and Mimar are on an upwards trajectory that has everyone around them right now excited about what’s to come, brimming with confidence as they make their world championships debut.
Jill and Greg have been incredibly intentional about creating a space where Brooke and Summer don’t feel any expectations.
“Our job as parents is not to coach them at all. It is to make sure that they're in a day-to-day training environment that they have fun in and that they excel in and then are surrounded by really good people. And so far they've had that for their whole career,” Jill says.
Greg marvels at his superhuman family of athletically talented women – and jokes about his baseball and hockey resume.
“Nothing compared to three women in my family,” he says, with a smirk on his face.
“I love what sports brings to the human experience. It creates responsibility, accountability, and a desire to perform and an acceptance of failure,” Greg says.
“I think what we tried to do is give the kids access, let them find their passion and then and if they're going to spend time and energy on something, to give it 150 per cent every single time. But there was never any professional pressure to perform, ever.”