Kelsey Wog has built a reputation as an elite swimmer with nerves of steel. Nothing is supposed to faze her.
And so it came as a mild surprise when the 22-year-old University of Manitoba speedster got emotional when several dozen flag-waving well-wishers greeted her upon arrival in her Linden Woods neighbourhood after her final hometown workout Thursday afternoon.
Wog leaves Friday for the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto where she is expected to qualify to represent her country in three events at the Tokyo Summer Games next month.
She's considered a strong contender for the Olympic podium in her favourite discipline, the 200-metre breaststroke.
"I was just so surprised, like there's basically been no celebrations allowed (during the pandemic) or anything," said a teary-eyed Wog. "I mean, I still have to go to trials and swim but it was so cool to have everybody come out...
"I had no idea they were doing this and I'm not usually one to really celebrate, but I mean it's pretty (great) that they put this together."
After the trials, the Canadian team will stay together for a pre-Olympics training camp, so Wog won't be back in Winnipeg until after the Games.
The celebration was the result of a plan hatched by next-door neighbour Sheri Skwarchuk, who conspired with Wog's parents, Susan and Travis, to catch her by surprise.
The plan worked to perfection as Wog took a moment in her car to compose herself before emerging to thank the crowd during a walk-around.
"We wanted to do something for the longest time but I wanted to time it just right, so this was her last swim practice," said Skwarchuk, a University of Winnipeg professor. "And so we just thought we didn't want to be too cheery… and presumptuous, but we also want to show her that we support her and we're really proud of her, no matter what happens."
Toronto Public Health is allowing the Trials to go on at Pan Am Sports Centre under an exemption for high-performance sport under Ontario's stay-at-home order.
At the Olympics Trials, Wog will swim in the 100-metre breaststroke on Sunday, 200-metre individual medley on Monday and 200-metre breaststroke on Tuesday.
An unwavering dedication to her sport had always impressed long-time friend Anika Nelson, who also turned out for the event.
"Once you get to know Kelsey, you realize when she's wants to do something, she does it and she makes it seem like no big deal," said Nelson. "And that's kind of the amazing thing — when you talk to her, she's very humble, she's very down to earth and she makes it seem like no big thing...
"(But) if you talk to her and you learn her schedule, she's working all the time and she makes it seem like no big deal. It's always kind of cool to see that attitude in somebody."
Wog's work ethic carries a lot of respect.
"We're just very proud of what she's been able to accomplish," said another neighbour, Vic Zieroth. "It took tremendous dedication — training, training, training — in the pool, out of the pool, long trips and she's travelled all over the world."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.