Photo: © adidas

Through our “In Their Words” series, we have been catching up with athletes that are leading their sports, to discuss their experience taking part in the games that almost didn’t happen. In this piece, Olympic Swimming Champion Katie Ledecky talks through her feelings following a busy Games and always remembering the fun of swimming and why she began on this path.

You’ve had a busy schedule this past week, how do you feel now that you’re on the other side?

I feel happy with my performances in the Tokyo Games, I had a fun time with my friends and teammates. It was a busy week of competition for me but I’m happy with each of my races and how I was able to tackle them.

It’s been an unusual journey to Tokyo for everyone involved, the games that almost never was, how has the last year been for you?

It has been a challenging year for everyone, we all worked to adapt to the circumstances and do our very best in training like we normally would, of course there were so many changes we had to adapt to, training looked a little different at times, the Olympics looked different at times, and so we had to be resilient and ready to adapt when we needed to.

You are a seasoned Olympian, returning for your third Games, if you look back to your first one, how do you feel different this time around?

I was just as excited for my third Olympics as I was my first, however while the first time around I didn’t know what to expect, this time I was ready due to experiences from London and Rio. We did have a lot of young swimmers on the team, so it was fun to see their excitement as it was very fresh and new for them. We tried to give as much advice as we could to them, and then to see them perform so well was incredible. I got to soak in each moment of the experience, I know what it’s like and I know that you must wait a couple more years to get that experience again if you get that opportunity, so I just tried to enjoy each of the little moments in between.

Photo: © adidas

Looking back on your journey of dedication and commitment, what would you say is an important lesson/practice that has continued to keep you on top of your sport? 

Goal setting has been very essential to get me to where I am today, I set my goals years in advance, and I work towards them. I know that it’s a process to reach them, so I try to keep those goals at the forefront of my mind and not let any external expectations or other people’s goals for me, get to me. It’s my goals that matter, so just reminding myself of that each day is very important. And I know that throughout it all my coaches will prepare me to tackle those goals best way I can.

What is one thing or person that is currently on your mind that you are thankful for?

I was thinking about my family a lot, this was of course a different Olympics in that we didn’t have our family here cheering us on, and so I just tried to keep them on my mind the entire time, and not just my immediate family but my extended family as well. They kept sending pictures of them watching and cheering and that meant so much to me. It was still a very special experience, I felt like I was experiencing it with them even though they weren’t physically here. I’m very excited to get back to the United States and be able to share memories with them, show them the medals, just have that time with them that I didn’t get to have in Tokyo.

You compete in both Team and Individual events; how do they differ for you?

I really enjoy relays, and I got to compete in one relay here in Tokyo and it went really well, Team USA just gets so excited and it’s very easy to swim fast in relays because you’re competing for your teammates and you want to do your very best for them because you know they’re doing that in return as well, I felt like we were able to do that this week in the relay that I competed in, we all did our best and it showed in the results. I love both the relays and the individual events because each event presents its own challenges and I try to embrace that challenge.

We’ve seen the conversation about mental health become more and more vocal amongst athletes, while preparing for such a demanding and high-profile competition, what are some things you like to do to keep yourself grounded and take care of your well-being? 

Keeping my goals in mind is important and I just try to live a very balanced life. I just finished college this past year, so school was very important to me and getting my education. It’s not just about swimming and I try to do other things as well. My family, friends, coaches, and teachers have always allowed me and encouraged me to live that balanced life.

Photo: © adidas

Is there any advice you can give to people struggling with motivation and dealing with setbacks?

Always try to be moving forward, don’t dwell on failures and disappointments, just try to find positives in everything you do and find things that you are passionate about. Try to be the best that you can be. I think if you’re always striving for self-improvement then that’s the best you can do, and always try to find the positives in hard moments, I think that’s the most important thing.

There are a lot of young athletes watching you, aspiring to be like you, what advice do you have for the next generation of swimmers out there?

Just have fun. I think back to the first time I started swimming, I never dreamed would make it to this level, I just got into the sport because I was having so much fun and I was meeting so many great friends. Eventually I made it to this point and got to travel all over the world, that’s been incredible and something I never imagined I’d get to do, to be sitting here in Tokyo. It’s amazing what sport has done for me, and the opportunities I’ve had through competition and through meeting people from all over the world. And so, I would just encourage young kids to find something that they really love, that they enjoy, whether that’s sport or something else and try to be the best that you can be at it and enjoy it.

I always look back to the first moments when I started swimming for the team and how much fun I was having, and I try to capture that and hold on to that fun in every level that I achieve.

You’ve accomplished so much, but there’s still a lot ahead of you, what are your goals for the future? Both in swimming and personally?

I would love to go to the 2024 Olympics, I know it’s not a guarantee, but I will eventually get back to work and start setting my new goals. I will be doing that in and out of the pool, there’s plenty I would like to achieve out of the pool, now that I’ve received my degree from Stanford I have some time to do things out of the pool, decide on some next steps, maybe going to graduate school or something like that, I’m going to take it step by step, right now after the Olympics I’m going to rest a little, process everything, and enjoy the time I get with my family to celebrate now and be with them after a lot of time apart during the pandemic. I’m going to enjoy and embrace the present and eventually start shifting my mind towards my future goals.