Summer McIntosh’s mourning path to the Olympics took a lifetime of perseverance
In June, Summer McIntosh stood on the pool deck at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Center moments after beating quadruple Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak to win the 200-meter freestyle race and qualify for Tokyo 2020.
The 14-year-old beamed behind her mask as she tried to catch her breath.
“You know, it’s just crazy. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just speechless,” she said, huffing and puffing. “It’s been such a crazy year for everyone. I’m just really happy.”
It was Father’s Day at the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials and her father, Greg, was brought up on the big screen inside the venue for a post-race interview. Summer’s eyes lit up when she saw him. She waved her hand.
“He’s my dad,” she said with a smile.
Greg, almost at a loss for words for a minute, pulled himself together.
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“She works so hard. It’s so amazing to see her rewarded for the hard work she does. She deserves it and Summer, I’m so, so happy for you,” he said.
LOOK | McIntosh beats Oleksiak at the Olympic trials:
It was the first time Greg got out of bed in weeks. He has been fighting cancer since January.
“He should have won an Oscar for it because he literally hadn’t got out of bed,” said Jill McIntosh, Greg’s wife and Summer’s mother. “It was the first time he had showered and wore a shirt.”
Jill has been the glue that kept the family together for the past seven months. When Greg was diagnosed with cancer in January, the family decided to go their separate ways to minimize the risk of COVID-19.
Greg moved to a location near the Princess Margaret Cancer Center in downtown Toronto. Jill and Summer rented a condo in Scarborough, Ontario, by the pool, while Greg and Jill’s other daughter, Brooke, who is a pairs figure skater and competed in the 2020 Youth Olympics, stayed in the family home in Etobicoke, Ontario.
“When Brooke was skating, I would go home and fill the fridge. I couldn’t get in touch with her. And then with Greg, I would cover him up three times and help him out when I could,” Jill said. “You sort of go into mama bear mode. You just gotta go. I had to take it one day at a time. Like a swimmer. And not be too scared of the future.”
Jill would know. She competed in the 1984 Olympics in the Pool for Canada and knows what it takes to be an elite swimmer.
So she was doing everything in her power to help Summer stay focused and pursue her goal of qualifying for Tokyo. But the young swimmer also faced more adversity months earlier when her longtime coach Kevin Thorburn died in April 2020.
Everyone has had their battles during this pandemic. But she suddenly lost her trainer because of it all. And then his father. The tests in operation, the tests in shutdown. She rolls pretty well with the punches.– Jill McIntosh on her daughter Summer
It was a shocking loss for the swimming community in Canada and for the summer.
“Everyone has had their battles during this pandemic. But she suddenly lost her trainer. It was devastating for her and for everyone,” Jill said. “And then completely upset her training and moving to the center. It was a little scary for her. It was all new. And then her dad. The tries, the tries stopped. She rolls pretty well with the punches. I am. so proud of her. “
Summer is as resilient at age 14 as you’ll ever find. Now she finds herself at her first Olympics, in the midst of a pandemic, without her family.
Greg is on the road to recovery. Summer got to see him before he left for Tokyo. She then went to a preparation camp in Vancouver for over a week before flying to the Games. Jill also flew to Vancouver for a few days to spend time with her daughter before the biggest moment of her life at this point.
“My mom is so supportive of me. She leads me and does whatever she can to help me feel ready,” Summer said. “She’s just a normal mother. Comforting if I have a bad stroke. She’s just amazing.”
Jill has a deep understanding of what makes athletes great. She knows what has worked for her and tries to create an environment in which her daughter can thrive, which also involves intending to give her space.
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“As much as you might want to ask about this and about it, I also agree that one of the most critical success factors of any athlete is the coach-athlete relationship. that is not good, ”said Jill. . “It’s not a good way for a parent to continually intervene. I try to be so supportive of that.
“I actually think I can add the most value to both girls just to try and put things in perspective.”
Summer and her sister are best friends. They started swimming together at a very young age. Jill says Brooke was probably the best swimmer at the start. Summer has also skated.
The two support each other remarkably, verify each other when competing and always want the best for each other.
“Summer just loved to run”
“I think Summer liked the objectivity of swimming. She liked knowing her time. Figure skating, you are judged. I think she much preferred the non-judged sport. Brooke was drawn to it. Summer just liked to run. and know exactly where she was, ”Jill said. “I’m pretty glad they both chose different sports. I don’t know what would have happened.
“I think it’s a much easier path. It’s fun having two sports in the family.”
Greg says it’s amazing to have a front row seat for the three successful and still successful women in athletics in his life.
“It’s amazing. I’m so proud of my two kids. And Jill is the one to keep it all together. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch it all,” he said.
Just five years ago, Brooke and Summer took a photo with Penny Oleksiak on the pool deck at the Pan Am Sports Center, a moment that marked them both and inspired Summer to make it to the Olympics.
Now she goes to the Games with the 2016 Olympic champion.
“I never would have imagined that. I would not have even imagined that she would have chosen swimming, let alone go to the Olympics,” Jill said.
She describes Summer as her outgoing, silly child, but also someone who can also flip a switch and become ultra-competitive quickly.
“In an instant, she can be completely focused on the task at hand. She’s very good at being the silly, free-spirited little girl, then extremely focused in an instant,” Jill said.
Oleksiak said she was “all gasoline, no brakes”.
The pandemic has been difficult for even the most veteran of athletes, no matter what Summer has had to endure on a personal level. But the 14-year-old keeps her big moment in perspective.
“All I can do is do my best. I will train the hardest and swim the hardest,” she said.
“I’m still processing everything. It doesn’t feel real yet. But it’s great to see my hard work come to life and to see that hard work always pays off.”