The assembly last week at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda was in her honor, and there was a question-and-answer session.
Did she meet Ryan Lochte? Yes — he told her that she did a good job. Was she nervous during her race? No, pretty relaxed. Is the gold medal heavy to wear? Yes, but she’s getting used to it. And this: How have you managed to stay so humble?
“Just being around you guys,” Ledecky answered.
Three hundred high school girls replied, “Awwwwwwwwww.”
Ledecky, just 15, is trying to ease back into the bubbly life of a teenager after her improbable, dominating performance this summer as the U.S. team’s youngest Olympian. Her victory in the 800-meter freestyle — by four seconds, a swimming lifetime — made her instantly famous. Matt Lauer talked to her. People magazine, too. Fake Twitter accounts popped up with her name — a sure sign of celebrity in the age of social media.
Around 6 feet tall, with a lengthy swimmer’s wingspan, Ledecky sticks out in any crowd, even without a gold medal. But she is slipping back into her teenage character — a still low-on-the-totem-pole sophomore — by taking refuge in school, where her classmates have welcomed her back as the sweet, sometimes goofy, studious student they knew pre-London.
“I think everyone knows that I want to return to a normal life, and I want it to be normal for them too,” Ledecky said. “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable at all.”
She showed up at Stone Ridge, which educates more than 600 girls from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, a week early to work on campus ministry projects. She completed her summer reading: “Lord of the Flies” and “Pride and Prejudice.” (She preferred “Pride and Prejudice.”)
She turned in a paper on the very first day of English class. And when her teacher Miranda Whitmore asked students to write about their summers, Ledecky mentioned the Olympics, then focused on her brother Michael, who had just left for his freshman year at Harvard.
“It’s been really hard to say goodbye to my brother,” Whitmore said Ledecky wrote. “I’m really close to him.”
Told about Katie’s essay, Michael said: “We’re a very close family. We always have been.”
He said he thinks his sister will have no trouble picking up where she left off before the Olympics. “Katie is good at keeping everything in focus, in staying grounded,” he said. “She’s focused on the things she was focused on before she won the gold medal.”
Without the gold medal around her neck, Ledecky’s classmates say they can’t really tell the difference between Ledecky the Olympian and Ledecky the Stone Ridge girl.