Swimmer Katie Ledecky famously credits her success to hard work and perseverance; but the 19-year-old athlete's upbeat, carefree attitude also reminds us not to take life too seriously. As a five-time Olympic gold medalist, nine-time world champion, and the current world-record holder for the women’s 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle, Ledecky has clearly found a winning balance. Here are just a few of the times she inspired us during this summer's Games in Rio.
On aiming high
"I just work hard and try my best every time I step up on those blocks. I'm very goal-oriented. I've always set high goals for myself. When I was little I never dreamed of going to the Olympics, but once I did I wanted to do my very best at that level. Four years ago, when I was visualizing my final, I never envisaged anything other than winning gold. Once I get to that level, I'm able to set the goals for myself and go out and achieve them."
On her teammate Michael Phelps
“[Phelps] has had a huge impact on a lot of the young swimmers on the team this year. ... I started watching him when I was six years old when I was first starting to get into the sport, and to be on the team with him has been such an honor. Not only to see his impact in the pool, but out of the pool as well. He’s really been a leader on this team and that’s why we came away with all these medals.”
On prioritizing fun
“I had a ton of fun. I had my goals in the water, but one of those goals was just to have fun, and I couldn’t have asked for a better time here with my teammates. ... It’s fun to swim fast. I'm happy with how this whole week has gone. ... It's never easy to break a world record, and it takes a lot of hard work and every day getting in the pool and giving it my all. [The 800] was the last race of my meet here and I wanted to remember it really well.”
On beating her personal best
“We set our goals for the week. And to finally hit one of them feels really good. Everyone wants to swim their best at the Olympics. I was just trying to set a personal best time, and for me that just happens to be a world record.”
On setting 'unreasonable' goals
"Goal setting has definitely stuck with me. Those 'want times' were always very ambitious. That part has carried on. I try to set goals that seem kind of unreasonable at first. As I work toward them, the more reasonable they look."
On her final races in Rio
“I don't know why I'm crying, but there were nights where I would go to bed and think about this day and how much fun I've had these past four years and I would start crying in bed. I just wanted to make this meet count and have a lot of fun with it. ... The memories mean a lot more than the medals to me. And the last four years have been incredible."
On who she is
"What I've done over the past couple years has been pretty great, but even that doesn't define my swimming. Working hard and doing everything I can to be successful should be my identity."