By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, September 14, 2018
Katie Ledecky’s announcement earlier this year that she was going pro wasn’t made quickly or alone.
Surrounded by family, friends and coaches whom she trusts and knows have her best interests in mind, Ledecky made good on a promise she made to herself shortly after the conclusion of her freshman year at Stanford.
Unlike previous athletes who only took a year (or less) off between school and Olympic Trials, Ledecky decided to take two years to ease into her transition as a professional and make sure she is in the best place when Olympic Trials arrives in less than two years.
“It wasn’t long after I started swimming at Stanford that I had a conversation with (Stanford Coach) Greg (Meehan) about when it made the most sense for me to go pro,” said Ledecky, who announced this spring that she agreed to “the most lucrative partnership in the history of the swim industry” with TYR.
“We both agreed that after my sophomore year would allow me enough time to get used to everything associated with being a pro and still prepare for the (2020) Olympics. Everyone in my life has been so supportive of this decision and any decision that I would have made.”
Growing up in a very tight-knit family, Ledecky said it was her mom and dad who instilled in her the values that made her a very mature, grounded 15-year-old when she made the 2012 Olympic team.
As the story goes, she made her big splash at Olympic Trials that year, winning the 800 freestyle to make the Olympic team.
Once she arrived in Great Britain for the Games, Ledecky said she was adopted by several older swimmers who helped her acclimate to the enormity of being a U.S. Olympian.
She went on to win gold in London – starting what has become the most awarded swimming career at the international level by a female with five Olympic gold and 14 World Championship gold medals. She’s also the current world record-holder in the women's 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter freestyle and holds the fastest-ever times in the women's 500-, 1000-, and 1650-yard freestyle events.
In subsequent World Championships and Olympic Games, Ledecky said she has taken on the role of mentor as more and more veterans have retired and newer, younger swimmers than her have risen through the ranks.
When she made the Olympic team, veterans Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer were the ones who looked for her.
Now it’s her turn, and it’s a position – and opportunity – that Ledecky says she has learned to embrace and enjoy.
“Everyone knows Michael (Phelps) is gone, but our veterans carried the team for many years and now it’s my turn to do that for the younger generation of swimmers coming up,” said Ledecky, who turned 21 in March but has been a member of the U.S. National team since 2012.
“When we were getting ready for Pan Pacs (earlier this summer), I looked at the roster and there were only a handful of swimmers who were part of the Olympic team from 2012 – which means I’m now one of those veterans. It’s been one of the greatest experiences for me to be able to share my experiences and knowledge with the rookies because we’re all on the same team and we all need to look out for one another.”
While she said she was happy with her swims at Pan Pacs in Tokyo earlier this summer, Ledecky said she and her teammates may have been at a disadvantage competitively because of the short time between Phillips 66 Nationals and Pan Pacs.
Factor in the limited time they had to acclimate to the new environment (they arrived just a few days before the start of the meet), and she thinks some of the swimmers may have been affected by jetlag as well as the 16-hour time difference.
“Many of us (veterans) were a bit frustrated with how things were set up for us leading up to the meet,” she said. “I think we all would have been a lot better and faster if we had more time between meets and definitely more days to get used to the time difference and change in environment.
“Plus, we swam in the blistering heat outside at Nationals in Irvine and then trained in Southern California, which was also blistering hot, which sucked the energy out of us. But I think it’s something we can all use and learn from in the future – and we all still had a great meet. I hope we get to Asia much earlier next year before Worlds, but overall, I am really pleased with how I swam this spring and summer.”
And now that she’s getting more and more comfortable with and acclimated to life as a professional swimmer after so many years as an amateur, Ledecky said she is embracing everything that comes with her new opportunity.
Among those new opportunities – and responsibilities – is continuing to be a role model for young swimmers – and athletes.
It’s an honor that Ledecky said she enjoys and takes very seriously – and recognizes as one of the premier faces of USA Swimming moving forward.
It all goes back to those values instilled in her since childhood – responsibility, accountability, determination and perseverance.
She’s willing to accept and embrace the life and duties of a professional athlete to be able to do what she loves.
“It’s the responsibility of all of us to continue to carry U.S. swimming and remain the best and fastest team in the world, but I know I have individual, personal responsibilities as well to young people who look up to me,” said Ledecky, who is returning to Stanford this fall to resume her studies toward her degree in psychology while she trains with Greg Meehan on the Farm despite no longer swimming collegiately
“My parents stressed the importance of education and hard work to me and my brother, Michael, since we were young. We both carry those values with us every day. I saw my parents and their parents and other family members work incredibly hard in everything they did, and I always try to do the same. Being someone’s role model falls into those same values of responsibility and accountability that have always been so important to all of us.”