Katie Ledecky is widely considered to be the greatest female swimmer of all time. She has won the World Championship 15 times and accumulated 7 Olympic gold medals. Before shattering numerous world records, Ledecky demonstrated prodigious skills early in life. At only 15 years old, she made her international debut at the 2012 London Olympics, shocking many after she won the gold medal for the 800-meter freestyle. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, she dominated even more, winning gold medals in the 200-meter freestyle, the 4x200 meter freestyle relay, and the 400-meter freestyle -- the last of which she finished in world record time. Her achievements in the pool have garnered her multiple prestigious awards and honors, including the titles of Swimming World’s World Swimmer of the Year four times, United States Olympic Committee Female Athlete of the Year three times, L'Équipe’s Champion of Champions twice, Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year, and Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. In 2016, Ledecky was named as one of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People.
In 2014, Ledecky committed to Stanford University, though decided to defer her enrollment until 2016 to train for the Rio Olympics. At Stanford, Ledecky didn't waste any time making a name for herself. As a freshman, she broke 12 competition records during the 2016-17 NCAA season and played an instrumental role in Stanford’s first team title win since 1998 at the NCAA Championships. At the end of the season, she was named the winner of the Honda Cup, an award given to the country’s top female collegian, becoming the first freshman in 35 years to win the trophy. Ledecky turned professional following her sophomore season. As a collegian, she broke American records 11 times, NCAA records 15 times and NCAA meet records six times.
In addition to her athletic accomplishments, Ledecky was a top student at Stanford. After taking psychology classes, the star swimmer decided that would be her academic path. She also got involved with research at the Mind and Body Lab, led by her advisor Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology. In her sophomore year, Ledecky was named to the Google Cloud Division 1 Academic All-America Team, an honor given to top student-athletes. She had a GPA of 3.99.
After two years of swimming professionally, Ledecky returned to the Stanford community in 2020. She had unfinished business. Wanting to complete her degree, she enrolled in a full load of classes in the spring, summer, and fall. By December 2020, she had completed the required courses for a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Stanford University. Unfortunately, graduation ceremonies were scheduled for June 2021, the same time that Ledecky would be participating in the U.S. Olympic trials. So to show her support and school pride, Ledecky wore a cap, gown, and Stanford-embroidered stole over her bathing suit for a much-circulated graduation-day photo.