Swim Phenom Summer McIntosh on Cottage Life, Drake and Life in the Fast Lane

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We catch up with Swimming Canada’s golden girl between training sessions in Sarasota, Florida, as she readies to make a splash in Paris.

Discipline

Swimming

Age

17

Hometown

Toronto, ON

Motto

Keep improving.

Around eight years old, Summer McIntosh had to choose: winter or summer. “I’m glad I decided to focus on swimming because I think I’d be too tall for figure skating,” she reasons from her training camp in Sarasota, Florida. She also happens to be a pretty good swimmer. At 14, in Tokyo, McIntosh set a national record in the 400–metre freestyle as the youngest member of Team Canada since 1976. Two years later, she set the world record. This year, she put the world on notice after dethroning American swim queen Katie Ledecky in the 800–metre, clocking a time that would have landed her at the top of the podium at the 2020 Games. As she heads to Paris, the Summer forecast is gold.

July 2, 2024

enRoute Your sister, Brooke, a national–level figure skater, competes in completely different sport. What made you choose swimming?

Summer McIntosh Growing up, my sister and I were put into many different sports because we loved the whole dynamic. The final two sports for me were figure skating and swimming. I liked figure skating, but as more of a judged sport, it just wasn’t for me. I like to be in control of my results. That’s why I like swimming: Whoever gets their hand on the wall first wins.

ER Your mom, Jill, swam at the 1984 Olympics and won the consolation final of the 200m butterfly for ninth place overall. What’s the most meaningful advice she’s given you?

SM I don’t think there’s been a specific thing that she’s told me advice–wise, but growing up and hearing so many cool stories about her Olympics and training experiences really inspired me to do something similar in my own way.

ER In a family of Olympic–level athletes, who is the most competitive? What’s board–game night like in the McIntosh household?

SM We play a lot of card games like Presidents, Spoons and War, usually at our cottage. It’s a fun way to pass the time. I think I’m a little bit too competitive in some ways — it can get a little out of control. Nothing bad or anything — I’m just very competitive in all aspects of my life. My sister and I have always been competitive with each other in a healthy way. Growing up with that has shaped us into who we are today. So, I’d say that my sister and I are equally competitive, but in different ways.

A lifeguard stand at a beach in Sarasota, Florida during a sunset
Sarasota, Florida   Photo: Nathan Mullet

ER In 2022, you shifted your full–time training base down to Sarasota, Florida. What was the move like for you?

SM I moved down here with the help of my current coach, Brent Arckey. Obviously, it’s hard to be away from my dad and my sister, but Florida is a lot sunnier than Toronto. So, the weather is a nice little boost. I’ve been able to make so many new friends and it’s such an incredible experience that I’ll never take for granted. Every day I’m so excited to go to practice, even if I have to wake up at 4 a.m. It’s so fun to train outside in the sun every day, too.

ER What do you miss most about Toronto when you’re in Florida?

SM My family and my cats. I have two cats in Toronto and one in Florida. I miss them every day. We call our oldest cat Mikey, as he is named after Michael Phelps. When he was a kitten, he really loved water, so we thought the name was fitting. He doesn’t anymore, but when he was little, he used to play with it all the time.

ER What’s it like to be a part of what many are calling Canada’s golden age of swimming?

SM It is so awesome. Since 2016, Swimming Canada has really pumped it up, and we’ve kept the momentum going since then — not just on the women’s side, but on the men’s side as well. Seeing what teammates like Joshua Liendo, Elia Laroche and Finlay Knox have accomplished is really inspiring. I’m so proud to be a part of it.

ER Your teammate and fellow Olympian Maggie Mac Neil says you’re “unbelievably believable.” Penny Oleksiak says you’re “all gas, no brakes.” What is it like training with and competing against each other?

SM I trained with both of them for maybe a year, or just over a year. They are both so inspiring to watch. I’ve been watching Penny since 2016, and what she achieved in Rio de Janeiro at such a young age is so incredible. I’ve learned so much from them, travelling to competitions, competing alongside them at the world–level, and being on some of the same relays as well. They bring so much light to the team.

ER Your prowess in the pool has put you on a lot of people’s radar. Tennis icon and gender equality advocate Billie Jean King congratulated you on X. American swimming phenom Katie Ledecky has sung your praises. What’s been your biggest pinch–me moment?

SM I’ve met so many cool people who I have always looked up to, especially someone like Katie Ledecky. Growing up, I remember quoting her and putting posters of her on the wall in my room. She is so inspiring, and she has really changed the sport. She’s been competing since she was super young as well. I think she won her first gold medal at the Olympics when she was just 15, which is absolutely incredible. Now, to be able to know her on a more personal level is really cool.

ER You were an Olympian at 14, a world record holder at 16, and you’re now vying for multiple medals in Paris. What’s next?

SM Right now, I’m just focused on Paris and trying to achieve whatever I can there, and that all comes from preparation. After that, I don’t really know what’s next. I’ll definitely continue to swim and try to keep improving day by day.

Summer McIntosh in her Team Canada red swimsuit with her hands on her hips

The Questionnaire

  • Window or aisle? I used to prefer the window, but now I think I prefer the aisle more. Definitely not the middle seat.

  • Dream seatmate Probably Drake. I don’t know if he flies commercial, because he has his own plane, which is huge. I think it’s called Air Drake. But if I could, I would definitely sit beside Drake. I’d be too star–struck to ask him anything. Just sitting beside him would be cool enough for me.

  • What are three items you can’t travel without? My childhood blanket, my phone and a good pair of headphones. My blanket is a small little blanket I’ve had ever since I was a baby and I travel everywhere with it. It’s kind of a comfort thing, something from home. I’m shocked that I haven’t lost it yet. I wouldn’t say it’s my good luck charm, but if I didn’t have it, it would definitely be upsetting. So, hopefully I never lose it.

  • What’s on your travel playlist? I can’t think of one song in particular, but any song that features Drake or is written by Drake. He’s my favourite artist, so he’s always on my playlist.

  • If travel had Olympic sports, you would be a pro at... Taking all the luggage off the trolley. I’m pretty strong and I don’t pack light whatsoever: my suitcases always weigh above 50 pounds. So, whenever I travel with my family, I’m always the one taking the suitcases off the trolley.

  • Bucket–list destination My friend and fellow swimmer, Abby Dunford, and I love the song “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean. She’s always wanted to see the Pyramids and she got me into the song, so I think going to see the Pyramids in Egypt together would be really cool.