Ledecky, who recently wrapped up her first summer as a professional swimmer, was the centerpiece of the Nationals’ first Swim Night. Before Washington faced the Philadelphia Phillies, Ledecky walked to the mound with two young swimmers. Then Erin Gemmell, the daughter of Bruce Gemmell, Ledecky’s coach at Nation’s Capital Swim Club in Bethesda, threw out the first pitch with Ledecky at her side.
The 21-year-old Ledecky waved to cheering fans, took selfies with others on the field and spent a few minutes discussing the summer behind her and the competition that lies ahead.
“It hasn’t been too different,” Ledecky said of her transition from amateur athlete to pro. “Most of the summer was just training and competing. I had two big meets over the last month, so it was mainly just preparing for that and doing everything I could to compete well on the international stage.
“Now I have a couple weeks here at home, so it’s fun to do things like this.”
Next Ledecky heads back to Palo Alto, Calif., to train and take classes as a junior at Stanford. By turning pro, she forwent competing for the Cardinal this coming season. But she will continue to compete with herself and the expectations that await at the world championships in 2019 and the Olympics after that.
With the addition of the women’s 1,500-meter race to the 2020 Olympics, Ledecky has another event to train for and conquer.
“I’m obviously really happy it was added,” Ledecky said. “It was a long time coming, and it gives me another event and another challenge. It’s hard to swim both the 200 and the 1,500, so it’s a really good challenge for me every day in training to work on both the shorter events and the longer events, including an event that’s 700 meters longer than an 800, which is what it typically has been. I’m excited. I’m excited to have it on the international stage, and hopefully I’ll be able to compete in the first Olympic 1,500.”
Before she does, she took the field at Nationals Park, wearing a personalized jersey with “Ledecky” and the No. 16 on the back, a reminder of the summer in Rio de Janeiro that changed her life.
“It means a lot,” Ledecky said of the excitement surrounding her appearance Wednesday. “It’s fun to see familiar faces and new faces as well, and I’m excited to see that these swimmers look up to me. It’s really inspiring to me and hopefully to them, and I’m just happy to have them all here and come together as a swim community tonight.”