Standing in line at a sandwich shop in Cloverdale last week, former Olympian Brittany Reimer was approached by a friend she hadn’t seen in years.
The friend was beaming with pride at how the Canadians were performing in the pool in Rio and with the success of one swimmer in particular – Penny Oleksiuk.
“That girl reminds me so much of you,” said the friend, comparing Oleksiuk to a young Reimer.
Reimer was taken aback that someone still remembered her success in the pool from over a decade ago.
With the Summer Olympic Games in full swing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Canadian swimmer Oleksiuk, who’s from Toronto, has ignited a nation with her four medals in the pool, the most by any Canadian athlete at a single Summer Games.
She also earned Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in the pool, in the 100m freestyle, since Mark Tewksbury won the 100m backstroke in 1992.
As a 16-year-old, Oleksiuk is also the youngest gold medalist in Canadian Olympic history.
In 2004, Surrey’s Reimer was also 16 when she qualified for the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
“I remember feeling super excited, obviously very nervous, but what has been so admirable about Penny has been her ability to keep her focus on one race at a time,” Reimer told The Leader. “She’s been able to turn small milestones into massive milestones.”
Although she did not win a medal in Athens, Reimer went on to win a silver and bronze at the World Championships in Montreal in 2005 and a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.
For her, it’s not just the event itself, it’s the lifelong memories and friendships that make the Olympic experience so memorable.
“I remember being there (the Olympics) with my family, living the village life with the other athletes. It’s something I’ll never forget,” she said. “(Penny) is making history and she’ll never forget these experiences. For me that’s the most exciting part, to see this person have this opportunity. I’m so excited for her.”
The World Championships and the Commonwealth Games are special, said Reimer, but the Olympics take everything to the next level and keeping mentally sharp can be difficult.
“It’s so easy to let that excitement get to you and not finish out the meet,” she said.
Reimer believes having experienced the Olympics and elite-level athletics in general has set her up well for her life after sports.
“Swimming and the Olympic experience has taught me so much,” she said. “Patience when things aren’t going just how you want it and work ethic. I know it sounds so cliche but it’s true. You set the paving stones for yourself over the course of your career and things don’t always happen right away.”
Reimer now lives in Langley and works as a realtor in the Cloverdale area.
Looking back, she credits the support of her family for helping her reach her athletic goals.
“I have twins of my own now and when they’re a little older, hopefully they’ll be swimmers too,” she said. “You’re going to have ups and downs. Enjoy the ups, because you don’t see people winning medals every day. They should be so proud of themselves.”
Despite the swimming portion of the Olympics having come to and end, Reimer is by no means turning her attention away from the remaining events. She plans on celebrating all the remaining successes with pride.