Katie Ledecky is one of the greatest swimmers of all time—and she gives a lot of credit to the support system she had as a kid in Bethesda. The six-time Olympic medal winner (five gold, one silver) started competing at age six and recently decided to go pro after swimming at Stanford for two years. With her sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Ledecky shares her favorite hometown spots and why she loves being from here.
What was it like growing up in Bethesda?
I had a very happy childhood, and I feel a strong connection to the Washington-area community. There are so many great things to do in Bethesda and the whole region, and I feel lucky to have attended some terrific schools where I made great friends.
What are some of your favorite memories?
They would have to be from the schools I attended—Metropolitan Nursery School, Little Flower School, and Stone Ridge. I made great friends at school, and also through swimming for the Palisades Porpoises in the Montgomery County Swim League. I always consider my first “big” swim meet to be my first Coaches’ Long Course meet at age eight—it was a special meet held every summer in an Olympic-size pool as part of the county swim league. I also remember spending a lot of time at Washington Capitals games—I practically grew up at the rink. My brother and I would get to the games early to watch warm-ups, so we could wave to Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, and Ken Klee along the boards.
Can you name some of your old haunts?
Palisades Pool, Barnes & Noble in Bethesda (unfortunately now closed), Ledo Pizza, Beyda’s clothing store at Westwood Shopping Center. After swim practice, we’d hit Izé’s in Rockville for breakfast.
How often do you come back?
Several times a year, and it’s always great to reconnect. While I’m at school and training at Stanford, I’m able to come back to Bethesda for breaks and at the end of each summer after my big swim meets.
Which places do you have to go back to when you visit?
In the summer, I enjoy going to Palisades Pool, either to swim or just relax and see friends. I also try to visit Little Flower School and Stone Ridge to see my teachers and some friends who are there. The teachers and administrators at those schools were so great to me, and the schools were so well run—by people like Sister Rosemaron at Little Flower and Catherine Ronan Karrels, Malcolm McCluskey, and Connie Mitchell at Stone Ridge. I also try to get to Nats Park in the summer to watch some baseball.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the area since you left for school?
I’ve seen the kids on my street growing up! I have fond memories of that street and playing with friends. It’s fun to see the younger kids doing the same now. In my view, the entire metropolitan area just continues to grow and become even more interesting.
Where do you like to swim when you come home?
I swim with my club team—Nation’s Capital Swim Club—with coach Bruce Gemmell and the group at the Georgetown Prep location. If I’m home in the summer, I love going to Palisades to swim.
What did you like about going to Stone Ridge?
There were so many things that made Stone Ridge a very special place. The curriculum was challenging and really prepared me for college. I loved the social-action program, which got students out into the community to help others. I enjoyed competing for the swim team. The faculty were all fabulous, and my high-school swim coaches, Bob Walker and Paul Boman, were incredibly supportive—and they continue to be—and made high-school swimming so much fun. I made friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.
Do you have a favorite memory from high school?
I have some favorite “small” memories from Stone Ridge—spending time in the senior lounge studying and laughing with friends, having a bonfire and movie night in the fall. I also have some bigger memories, like winning the ISL [Independent School League] swim-and-dive championship with my team and volunteering at Shepherd’s Table and Bikes for the World with my classmates. I’ll never forget the tremendous support I received from the Stone Ridge community when I competed at the Olympics in London in 2012 at age 15, the summer following my freshman year.
This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.