Not only is she swimming's most decorated female athlete with five Olympic gold medals and 15 World Championship titles, Katie Ledecky is also a recent Stanford University graduate!
On Thursday, during the Team USA Tokyo Olympics media summit, the swimmer, 24, tells PEOPLE about how she spent 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdown and the year-long postponement of the Summer Games.
"I actually graduated this past fall. I re-enrolled in classes at the start of the pandemic. The start of spring quarter at Stanford coincided perfectly with the postponement of the Olympics and the pandemic. I had been taking the 2019-2020 Olympic year off and in March 2020, I was able to hop back into classes virtually and finish up my degree. I took a full load of classes in the spring, summer, and in fall. It was really great," says Ledecky, who earned a major in psychology and a minor in political science. "It was great to keep my mind occupied and to complete my degree earlier than expected. It was a really nice silver lining for 2020."
Continues the athlete, "I took some really interesting classes in the spring, which was right at the beginning of the pandemic. I took a class called 'Global Change and Emerging Infectious Disease.' That class was scheduled before the pandemic really broke out so they adapted the class to focus on coronavirus and take a few classes, usually one per week or one every two weeks, to do a deep dive and answer questions."
"We had some of the experts in the country on calls. One of our professors was working with the state of California on the response so we got a little insight. It was really neat just to hear from experts when I think we were watching the news a little more frequently than we ever were," Ledecky recounts, calling the class "really interesting."
It was, she says, "Just a really great time to be taking all those classes and still training at Stanford."
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Stanford is also home to fellow swimming star and Ledecky's training partner Simone Manuel, who was the first Black woman to win an individual gold medal in Olympic swimming in Rio. More recently, Stanford made history again when the Cardinals defeated the Arizona Wildcats 54-53 in the NCAA women's basketball tournament championship game last Sunday, securing the school's first title since 1992.
"The women's basketball team just had an incredible run and just to see their hard work up close. Coach Tara Vanderveer is a very dedicated lap swimmer so we see her on a regular basis at the pool and that's a lot of fun," Ledecky also says to reporters on Thursday during the media summit.
Speaking about the support she feels at Stanford, Ledecky adds, "It's really fun to cheer each other on and have that extra support system and community. It's just another thing I've added to my toolbox, I guess, leading into Tokyo that I haven't had in the past in past Olympic cycles. I've had this amazing experience at a school I really love and a great place with great people. I'm really thankful for that kind of support."
To prepare for Tokyo, USA Swimming has staged a meet this week in Mission Viejo, California, to mimic the unconventional Olympic schedule, what athletes, coaches and officials have called the "Tokyo Twist." On Thursday, Ledecky is set to compete in the 200-meter freestyle preliminary heat before returning to the pool on Friday morning to race in the event's final.
The Tokyo Olympics are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 through Aug. 8, 2021.
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.
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