Cheering as though she could hear them in London, students, staff, alumnae and parents gathered at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda on Friday afternoon to root for one of their own.
Katie Ledecky, 15, a rising sophomore at the school and a member of its swim team, competed in her first Olympics on Friday, swimming in the women’s 800-meter freestyle event.
She won the gold medal in a time of 8 minutes, 14.63 seconds, narrowly missing the world record mark.
Ledecky is the youngest athlete ever to win the women’s 800-meter race and the youngest member of the 530-athlete Team USA.
The watch party was organized by the school to cheer on Ledecky, Catherine Ronan Karrels, the head of school, said as she greeted the crowd of about 300.
The upper school all-purpose room was decorated in red, white and blue with balloons and posters, and more than half the crowd wore T-shirts that read: “Ledecky Team USA, A Stone Ridge Girl.”
“She is humble but a competitor, unassuming but a hard worker,” Bella Trujillo-Lederer, 17, of Bethesda, a rising senior and swim team co-captain, said of Ledecky before the event. “When she gets on the block you want to watch her, I have high hopes she will medal.”
After Ledecky’s race, Trujillo-Lederer nearly was speechless.
“There are no words to describe what she did,” she said.
Stone Ridge assistant swim coach Paul Boman said he was floored by Ledecky’s race.
“It was a brilliant race,” he said. “She went out fast, but had [energy] for the end.”
Most of the crowd stayed after the race, sharing their excitement and eating red, white and blue cookies shaped like the school’s Gator mascot or slices of red, white and blue-frosted cake.
Only during the medal ceremony and the playing of the National Anthem did a hush fall over the hall.
“I think Katie is an inspiration for us all,” said Kelly Seegers,18, of Potomac, a 2012 Stone Ridge graduate. “She is such a nice girl; we all knew she was something special.”
The school community will plan a welcome-back celebration for Ledecky and ask her to share her Olympic experiences with the school, Ronan Karrels said.