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Katie Ledecky has advice for young swimmers. Olympic star releases book before trials

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As a child, Katie Ledecky had no aspirations of going to the Olympics. She was swimming just for fun.

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Katie Ledecky, the greatest female swimmer in history, is known for winning Olympic gold medals in the most impressive fashion. But something few might be aware of is what happens when she comes into the post-race press conference, where she spends quite a bit of time deflecting attention from herself and focusing on her competitors.

So how does a person who would rather talk about others than herself actually write a book — about herself?

“You may have picked up on it that I did deflect a little bit by talking about all the people that have played such an instrumental role in my life,” Ledecky said during a recent interview as she discussed her new memoir, the fabulously titled “Just Add Water,” being published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster.  

“I guess that actually is talking about myself,” she acknowledged, “but I really do feel like I’m the product of all the people around me, the people who have come before me, definitely my grandparents, my parents, my brother, my aunts and uncles, cousins. Really I don’t think I would be the swimmer I am without them. So it was great to be able to reflect on that and share a lot of their stories.”

This is a big week for the 27-year-old Ledecky. In addition to the debut of her first book, she will compete at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (yes, a pool has been built inside an indoor football stadium) where she is expected to qualify for her fourth U.S. Olympic team in multiple events. 

Ledecky will be one of the most-watched athletes at the Paris Games, where she will try to add to her Olympic cache of seven gold medals and three silvers. While she likely will be favored to win gold in the women’s 800 and 1,500 freestyle events as she did in Tokyo three years ago, she will not go unchallenged as younger swimmers who grew up idolizing her are now some of her top rivals.

But first, she’s dishing out some valuable advice in her new book, which in many ways is the perfect primer for parents and their athletic children. 

As she details her childhood at a neighborhood pool in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., she had no aspirations of going to the Olympics. She was swimming just for fun.

“I’ve seen it with teammates that they tell the story of how right when they started swimming, they wrote in a first-grade paper that they wanted to go to the Olympics, or somebody declared that they were going to be an Olympian when they won the 25 free at age 8,” she said. 

“That was never me and that was never my family. I loved swimming and I definitely fell in love with it right from the start but I played other sports. I was pretty decent at basketball and soccer and was competitive and loved being active, so I loved all these things I was doing.”

As for swimming, she said, “I watched it on TV but when I watched swimming, I never thought I would be at that level. I thought that that was some other realm, I thought that’s so far off and it wasn’t really until I started qualifying for these bigger and bigger meets that all of a sudden qualifying for Olympic trials was the next meet and at that point, it came into the picture and I learned how you qualify for the Olympics.”

But, she said, “It wasn’t the goal from a young age. And so I think that is an important message, it’s a message that you don’t have to be great right from the get-go, you don’t even have to have that goal right from the get-go, there are different journeys that everyone takes.”

For anyone looking for tabloid drama or even a hint of scandal, this isn’t the book for you. It’s just the opposite, a delightful escape from our rancorous world to a place where hard work pays off and dreams do come true.

“I feel very fortunate that I have had a very happy life and no major injury or huge setback or abuse or anything in my life that has derailed me from the path that I’ve wanted to take,” Ledecky said. “When I started writing this, I knew it would be a very positive story. 

“Having that gold medal, seeing the way that it makes little kids smile, older people smile, it can light up somebody’s face, and so just that impact is something that’s very meaningful to me and if the book can be a small part of adding to that, then that’s great and means a lot to me.”

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