By Kate Walter, Swimming World Intern.
While most teens worried about passing their Driver’s Ed course or finishing their summer reading, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky had other issues on her mind. It was August of 2012, and the naive Olympian was preparing to swim in the 800 meter freestyle final at the London Olympic Games.
The High School Olympian
Back at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic, all-girls school in Bethesda, MD, dozens of Katie’s classmates eagerly awaited the start of the race. They were decked out in red, white and blue while donning personalized Ledecky T-shirts. Eight minutes and 15.63 seconds later, when the 15-year-old slammed her hand on the wall first, mayhem broke out. There were screams and tears of joy as Stone Ridge girls of all ages celebrated their sister’s win. It was not just a win for Ledecky, but for the whole school as well.
Ledecky’s unexpected win in London has left an indelible mark on the Stone Ridge Community. The school takes pride in its “Gold Medal Gator”. No conversation about the swim team can be had without mentioning Ledecky. The record board in the aquatic center is flooded with her name. It’s safe to say that Stone Ridge loves Ledecky, and Ledecky loves Stone Ridge.
Just three days after the swim, Katie was met by swarms of hugs from fellow Stone Ridge classmates at the Dulles Airport. Celebrations would continue as the new American record holder was honored with a hometown parade, first pitch at a Washington Nationals baseball game and a breakfast sandwich named after her at a local deli in Rockville, MD.
The golden glory had barely sunk in before it was time to hit the books to begin sophomore year. In the span of a month, this 15-year-old swimmer had gone from Olympic champion to hometown celebrity to just another student in religion class. Of course, Katie would never be “just another student”. She had etched a permanent name for herself in swimming history, and that was impossible to ignore.
The rest of Ledecky’s high school experience passed in a blur of ceramics classes, swim team cheers, spirited dual meets and a generous number of gold medals. Her senior year consisted of breaking the national high school record in the 200 free and attending the Tres Bien Ball, a cherished Stone Ridge tradition to officially welcome young ladies into the ranks of alumni.
On June 4th, 2015, Ledecky graduated high school along with 78 of her Sacred Heart sisters. Although she was leaving Stone Ridge, Ledecky would forever remain a part of the community.
Returning Home with Hardware
Flash forward to Ledecky’s record-setting performance in the Rio Olympics when she proved to the world that her performance in London was no fluke. The Washington Nationals even stopped their game to broadcast her Olympic gold medal performance on the jumbotron.
Yet again, upon arriving home from the games, current and past Stone Ridge students hugged the World Champion, but not quite as aggressively, considering the Olympian’s neck was draped with several more medals this time. Welcoming her home from the Olympics had seemed to become a popular Stone Ridge tradition.
Going Back to Her Roots
As summer came to an end and hundreds of girls flocked back to Stone Ridge in plaid skirts and polos, Ledecky returned to her alma mater to share her experiences of being an Olympian. Stone Ridge students of all ages sat in awe after getting to touch gold medals and threw elbows to try to take a selfie with the star.
Ledecky visited the preschool classroom, talked with middle school students and took pictures with the upper schoolers. The campus was abuzz that day with palpable excitement about the return of the “Gold Medal Gator”.
Cheers from the pool deck made the whole aquatic center rumble. The 2017 annual dual meet between Stone Ridge and the Holton Arms had just started and spirit was out in full force. These two schools had been in a heated rivalry for countless years, with neither team having lost a meet; it was a constant battle to see who could knock the other off their pedestal.
Stone Ridge started off a bit shaky, finishing third in the first relay; however, they had a little something up their sleeve that no one was expecting. And that little something came in the form of Ledecky. She wasn’t there to swim the meet: her days of high school swimming were long over. She was there to give an inspiring pep talk and cheer on the Gators.
With the boost in motivation from their Olympic cheerleader, Stone Ridge beat Holton for the first time since 2015, Ledecky’s last high school season. After the meet, Ledecky graciously took photos with swimmers and even joined the team for their pasta dinner.
Katie Ledecky is now a household name, yet her years of winning gold medals hasn’t changed this Stone Ridge girl. She’ll always be a Gator at heart – although now one with six Olympic medals draped around her neck.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.