Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart sophomore Katie Ledecky said her life changed forever on Aug. 3.
That day at the Aquatics Centre in London, Ledecky turned in the world’s second fastest 800-meter freestyle time (8 minutes, 14.63 seconds) to win an Olympic gold medal.
After participating in a media tour with Team USA, Ledecky spent time with the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and students at Washington Middle School for Girls (D.C.) to speak about “setting goals, working hard and finding ways to improve yourself,” she said.
“Swimming has been something I’ve learned from. Throughout my whole life and especially last year leading up to [Olympic Trials], setting goals as they come up and working through things and finding more ways to improve, you can connect that to anything,” Ledecky said.
Ledecky, who at 15 was the youngest member of 580 athletes representing Team USA, was presented with two awards at the ninth annual Golden Goggle Awards on Nov. 19 in New York City.
The ceremony annually honors swimmers’ achievements during the course of the year. Ledecky won Breakout Performer of the Year and Female Performance of the Year.
Her accomplishments have thrust her into the limelight and inspired many worldwide, but at heart, Ledecky said, she is just a high school sophomore eager to support her Stone Ridge swimming and diving teammates just how they did during her path to London.
“She is just down to earth [and] the nicest person. The level she swims, it’s something she has that not everyone experiences. But she isn’t one of those girls who sits on the bench by herself or has to go sit in the corner. She is part of the team. She’ll cheer for anyone. She’s just as excited about someone else’s swim as she is for her own. And you don’t have that with every athlete,” Stone Ridge coach Robert Walker said.
Ledecky said she also is looking forward to competing in this year’s Washington Metropolitan Swimming and Diving Championships for the first time.
The historical meet matches public and private school teams together in a championship for the only time and perennially is one of the country’s fastest high school competitions.
Ledecky grew up watching her older brother Michael compete as part of the Gonzaga College High School’s team, but was forced to skip last year’s championship to compete in the 2012 Missouri Grand Prix.
After missing Winter Nationals because she was sick this time last year, Ledecky was encouraged by her club coaches to obtain more high-level long course race experience.
“Growing up, I’ve definitely looked forward to competing at Metros. I’ve seen amazing performances that have come from that meet. [Last year] my coaches just felt that I needed racing experience against some of the bigger names and get that under my belt so I wasn’t shocked or nervous [at Trials],” Ledecky said.
Backed by Ledecky’s record-setting performances, Stone Ride’s second-place finish at last year’s Independent School League championship meet was its best since winning the whole thing in 2003.
The Holton-Arms School won its eighth ISL title in nine years last winter and is favored to prevail again.
But the Gators have an excellent chance to close the gap and perhaps pull off an upset this season, Walker said.
Though Ledecky’s performance in London proves she excels in long-distance freestyle, she is quite adept at just about any stroke.
And Walker said he intends to use her across the board wherever needed in a given lineup.
But Ledecky alone can not win an entire championship.
The top-12 finishers at ISLs earn points in decreasing order, the top-20 at Metros do the same.
But Ledecky is supported by perhaps Stone Ridge’s deepest squad in some time.
The Gators did not lose any championship points with graduation and added a talented freshman class capable of increasing scores.
Lily Gasaway, Laura Garcia and Natalie Kronfli are among returning scorers. Freshmen Kelleigh Haley and Madison Smith likely will add depth.
With Ledecky in its corner, Walker said Stone Ridge could compete for a fifth or higher finish at Metros this season.
The Gators have finished just outside the top-10 the past two years, an improvement from 2010 when they scored just two points en route to 31st.
A lot has changed in Ledecky’s life since she last wore her Gators’ swimsuit and cap. And surely, though most of her foes have grown up swimming alongside her, Walker said the “Olympic gold medalist” moniker brings even more clout.
Yet somehow it seems that little has changed in Ledecky’s life.
“I still see this little girl who is excited to swim. You can’t teach sportsmanship. You can tell someone to be a good sport, but you can’t teach that and she is a true genuine person in athletics that loves competition. She rises to the occasion, but brings everyone up with her,” Walker said. “When you achieve something in life that not too many people achieve, it’s special to people. Katie handles herself well.”