At the height of the school year, sometimes seeing the end of the road is tough. Surrounded by books, papers, study guides, and the dreaded final exams, students easily make the mistake of thinking their load will never end. In the world of sports, athletes demonstrate an incredible trait of pushing through to the end, even when the going gets tough. For some athletes, after achieving the previously unachievable, finding motivation to continue improving in their sports can become hard. Yet some athletes exist who find even more motivation in their achievements. One of these athletes is a U.S. Olympic swimmer known as Katie Ledecky.
Born in Washington D.C. just twenty years ago, Kathleen Genevieve Ledecky began learning how to swim as a small child. At only six years old, she began swimming competitively alongside her older brother, Michael. As a ten-year-old, Katie came under the tutelage of swimming coach Yuri Suguiyama. Suguiyama would prove to be the key to Katie’s swimming engine. When Katie swims, she uses a stroke known as a gallop or a hitch which many male Olympic swimmers, including Michael Phelps, use. However, this stroke is incredibly rare in the world of female competitive swimming. Because of the core strength required to perform the gallop stroke, it comes easier to men and female swimmers find it a lot harder to use, so they tend to use a basic stroke. Katie is able to use the gallop because of her powerful hips, driving her through the water like a torpedo.
With Suguiyama’s help, Katie qualified for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. At the Olympics, Ledecky was able to snatch the first gold medal of her career in the 800m freestyle with a time of 8:14.63–before she got her driver’s license. Upon returning back to the US and to school, Katie continued her training, eventually making her way into the 2013 FINA World Championships. During the final 1500m race, Katie shattered the previous recorded by six seconds (a video of her race can be seen here: https://youtu.be/bgNTzvz2hOk).
Continuing with her success, Katie entered the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. During the Championships, she won five gold medals ranging from the 200m freestyle to the 1500m freestyle. Impressively, Katie dominates both the long distance swimming competitions as well as the short distance competitions. According to Olympic swimmer Connor Jaegar, the physiological differences in competing in long distance and short distance races makes it nigh-impossible for a freestyle swimmer to swim both. Yet Katie is capable of not only competing in both, but winning both types of races.
Upon entering the 2015 World Championships, lots of pressure was heaped upon the 18-year-old, for obvious reasons. Some athletes crack under the pressure, but Katie doesn’t. In the 1500m freestyle, Katie broke her own record twice, once in preliminaries, and again in the final. She so thoroughly dominated the event that the runner up finished a total of 15 seconds behind her. According to Michael J. Joyner, a researcher for the Mayo Clinic, if a long distance runner dominated a 10,000m race as much as Katie dominates the 1500m, it would be equivalent to the runner winning by 100m. Not only did Katie win the 1500m, she also would take home medals in the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle races. In the 800m freestyle, she beat out the world record by four seconds and the second place finisher by ten.
In 2016, the year of the Rio Olympics, Katie first competed in the Pro Swim Series. At the series, she broke the 800m record again, this time with a time of 8:06.68. After the series, Katie swam at the 2016 Olympic US trials, qualifying her for the 200m, 400m, and 800m races, along with the women’s relay 4x200m team and 4x100m team. These Olympics were one of Katie’s most successful competitions. While she took silver on the 4x100m team, in all other events she took gold. In the 400m race, she shattered the previous record with a time of 3:56.46, finishing almost 5 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. Along with a comeback victory in the 4x200m Women’s Freestyle Relay and a victory by three-tenths of a second in the 200m freestyle race, Katie broke her world record again in the 800m Freestyle race with a time of 8:04.79, dominating the race and beating out second place by 11 seconds.
As she continues to dominate the swimming arena, at the age of 21, Katie is already being called one of the greatest swimmers, if not the greatest, of all time. However, she is not without her critics. Because of her massive success, there are some skeptics who claim her secret to success stems from performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). However, there has never been any evidence to suggest that this is the case. Typically, when an athlete uses PEDs, the person using the drugs has a sudden increase in skills or results. Katie, however, has always smashed the competition in the pool. The only sudden increase she ever had was from the time she was 12 to the time she was 13, easily explainable through puberty.
How, then, is Katie so good at winning her events? According to her current swim coach, the answer is simple: hard work and practice. Katie never gives up or quits. When she sees something she wants to achieve, she puts the work in to do it, never looking back. In the case of breaking records, she trains herself “48 weeks out of the year…six to ten times a week…20-40 times a practice”. With that kind of work ethic and dedication, it’s no mystery how she is able to achieve what she can. While this can seem almost impossible to achieve in a “normal” person’s life, in the case of a student, constantly striving to increase knowledge and skills in school with the Ledecky work ethic will yield great results. With the first semester coming to a close, the next semester is not another activity to just slough through–it’s a chance to excel and succeed at school, just as Katie has at swimming.