The Olympian tells HelloGiggles about her time in Tokyo, how she protects her mental health, and what she loves outside of the pool.
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Katie Ledecky
Credit: Laurence Griffiths, Getty Images

Katie Ledecky may happen to be the most decorated female swimmer in Olympic history, but there's so much more to her than her career in the pool.

"The people around me help me remember that swimming is just one part of who I am and only one of the things that I enjoy doing," the 24-year-old tells HelloGiggles following her incredible showing at the Tokyo Olympics. For Ledecky, who just graduated with a degree in psychology while minoring in political science, one of her greatest passions outside the pool is a STEM education program that she launched in 2020 to encourage middle school students to go into the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. 

"We're continuing to build that out over this fall and into the next couple of years," she says. "That's been a great passion project of mine, and it's really fun to connect with students and try to inspire as many as we can when I go and speak to them." 

Ledecky doesn't show up empty-handed at her STEM events, though—she's always sure to have one of her medals in tow, because she knows the power of having a symbol of her strength and hard work when she speaks to impressionable students. "It's really neat when you get to bring the gold medal around and show it to kids and see their faces light up," she says. "And that was a driving force behind me really trying to bring home another gold medal or two from Tokyo, because I know how special it is to be able to bring it around and talk about it and talk about all the work that it takes to put in."

Ledecky's STEM program, Dive Into STEM With Katie Ledecky, initially launched in five markets in 2020—San Francisco Bay Area; Washington, D.C.; Newark, New Jersey; Denver, Colorado; and Reno, Nevada—and is an ongoing project that the swimmer is taking part in and hopes to see success from the students she speaks with.

That medal she brings along to show students, she says, encourages the students in the STEM program to "chase big goals" and aspire to greatness, no matter what they're passionate about. Ledecky says that she hopes she can make a difference in these young lives and inspire them to be confident, just like so many of her role models have done for her. This confidence plays a major role in her partnership with BIC and the brand's Game On campaign for the BIC Soleil Razors. As part of her campaign, Ledecky is showing viewers the importance of self-confidence because you never know who you can inspire with your actions. When it comes to her own self-confidence, Ledecky points to a number of people in life as her role models—both in and out of the pool.

"My teammates, my family, my friends, all the people that have helped me along the way—all that builds confidence," she says.

When Olympians are on the world stage every four years, it's easy to forget what goes on in their lives during the time between each Games and how much pressure they're dealing with. When Simone Biles pulled out of her events this summer for her mental health, though, she thanked fans for helping her to see that she was more than just her accomplishments. It's a statement that no doubt had plenty of people considering their own selves and what they're most known for—Olympian or not. 

Mental health became one of the hottest topic at this summer's Games, leading other athletes to open up about their own mental health. Ledecky says she tries to balance her physical and mental health equally, because she firmly believes they play off one another. 

"I tried to just focus on what I can control and I try to just stay focused on the next thing, not look too far ahead," she says of her time in Tokyo, where she swam a whopping 6,200 meters. "I knew I had to take it just one day at a time and get proper recovery and rest in between. I think that's a super important part of physical and mental health, just taking care of yourself and watching out for yourself."

Ledecky also had a support network to rely on, though it looked different at this Olympics compared to her two previous times, in Rio De Janeiro and London, thanks to COVID-19 regulations barring the public from attending events. As one of the most well-known names in swimming, Ledecky had plenty of people cheering for her near and far, though, which she says helped her stay focused. 

"If [my teammates] were done competing or didn't have a race that day, they were in the stands cheering us on and that provided pretty good energy for us."

She adds that despite the changes, the Olympics felt "surprisingly normal." After all, she's in a pool doing what she loves—and winning medals and setting records along the way. Not only did Ledecky win the first-ever women's 1500-meter freestyle gold medal by 4 whole seconds, but she also won the gold in the 800-meter freestyle, an event that she's dominated for pretty much her entire swimming career. Ledecky bested Australia's Ariarne Titmus by 1.26 seconds to win this event for the third Olympics in a row. Not only did she become the youngest *and* oldest swimmer to win this event (at age 15 in London and 24 in Tokyo), but she now holds the top 23 times in this event. Titmus' silver-medal-winning time is currently the fastest race *after* Ledecky.

Aside from her two gold medals, Ledecky also won silver in the 400-meter freestyle (which Titmus took gold in) and a silver medal in the 4x200-meter relay with teammates Allison Schmitt, Paige Madden, and Katie McLaughlin.

But despite the competition at hand in Tokyo, Ledecky found time for the "little moments" that she says will be what she remembers most when she looks back on these Games: making friends, cheering on her teammates, and even having shaving parties the night before races with her fellow swimmers. "We all shave the night before a race...we play some cards and just try to keep each other really loose and relaxed," she says.

At only 24 years old, she's already accomplished so much both in and out of the pool and could easily find herself in Paris for the 2024 summer Olympics, a goal she's already set for herself.

"It's never a guarantee that you'll make the team," she says of what could be her fourth Olympics. "It's very tough to make the team in the United States, so I'm not banking on it by any means, but I'm going to put in the work to try to get there." 

For now, though, Ledecky taking a well-earned break before she dives back into training for the world championships and other national-level meets that are part of her roadmap to the next Olympics. Paris is only three years away, after all, and Ledecky is excited to "do all the big and little things" she needs to do to get there.