Katie Ledecky Ready to Join Her Fourth Olympic Team (Exclusive)

Katie Ledecky Ready to Join Her Fourth Olympic Team (Exclusive)

Katie Ledecky is ready to set new records in the pool this summer, but the seven-time Olympic gold medalist is also taking some time to take a look at how she achieved GOAT status.

In her new memoir Just Add Water: My Swimming Lifethe 27-year-old famous swimmer shares her own perspective on reaching the top of the sport — and it all started in a pool in Maryland when she was 6 years old.

“I joined a team that was part of the Montgomery County Swim League, which is a huge league in Maryland and all of these summer league teams — it’s where a lot of young kids start swimming and find their love for the sport,” Ledecky tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “And that’s what I definitely found.”

Ledecky’s love of the water fueled her competitive spirit throughout her childhood and beyond.

“I remember looking up to the big kids in the summer league. They range from ages 6 to 18. “So I remember looking up to the 18-year-olds and watching them swim and have fun and do different things.”

Katie Ledecky.

Simon & Schuster

She continues, “So just playing in the pool with the older kids was always something that I loved. And then I loved going to training. I loved the cold water in the summer. I loved spending time in the pool with my teammates all day, working out and playing Sharks, minnows and other toys and training again or taking swimming lessons so it was a lot of fun spending time in the pool.”

Two decades later, Ledecky is the most decorated swimmer in Olympic history.

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In addition to her seven golds, the Stanford graduate has won three silver medals since making her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London. She is an Olympic champion in every swimming distance from 200 to 1,500 metres, and has also won 16 world championship titles, making her the most decorated world champion swimmer, regardless of gender.

But just over two years ago, Ledecky was looking for a new challenge. After training in California for years, she changed her training regimen.

Katie Ledecky.

Jerome Ibrahim/ISI/Getty Images

“I was [at The University of] Florida about two and a half years ago. “I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I’ve been able to train with some of the best long-distance swimmers in the country and in the world, so that’s been beneficial to my training and I try to keep them on their toes as well. It’s just a really fun environment.”

Now, as Ledecky eyes a spot on Team USA at the Paris Olympics, the three-time Olympian — who was the youngest American to compete at the London Olympics when she won a surprise gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle — marvels at the “surreal” idea that she is now considered… A veteran of this sport.

“I want to make sure I’m a leader for our team, in and out of the pool and make sure the young swimmers feel like they belong on this team and they belong at the Olympic level,” she tells PEOPLE, adding that she’s also interested in making sure they feel comfortable and confident going out there and competing with the best. In the world.

Katie Ledecky poses with two gold medals and two silver medals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 31, 2021.

Lawrence Griffiths/Getty

On the eve of the Olympic Trials this weekend in Indianapolis, Ledecky is left with the feeling of another Olympics washing over her.

“It’s a little surreal. I mean, I don’t think I necessarily expected to still be at this level so many years later,” she says. I wouldn’t have been able to see a future where I would be competing in 2024.” So yeah, I don’t take it for granted. I don’t take these opportunities for granted, and I just try to enjoy every day of training and the process.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.com And come to People.com to check out ongoing coverage before, during and after the games. Watch the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, starting July 26, on NBC and Peacock.

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