It's no secret that Katie Ledecky is an all-star: she's a three-time U.S. Olympic swimmer and a seven-time gold medalist, but sometimes she is still shocked at how far she has come over the years.
"I do have to pinch myself now and then," the 24-year-old exclusively tells OK! while promoting her partnership with got milk?, in which she discusses how chocolate milk fuels her after a workout or race and helps rebuild and repair her muscles so she's ready for the next swims. "I never imagined it when I was really, really young, and I don’t think even my first gold medal from 2012 when I was 15 years old has even sunk in yet nine years later."
She continues, "I think down the road it will eventually sink in and sometimes different pieces of it sink in a little bit more than others, but I think just looking back on my career, my international swimming career, I can’t imagine all of the different places that I have been and all of the medals I have won and all of the records I have broken. I never imagined this, and I just try to enjoy every day because I think you kind of have to have that focus and you can’t look too far back because you don’t want to get complacent and you don’t want to think too much about what you have already accomplished if you want to move forward. I love sharing stories from past Olympics, and I am always remembering different pieces of it, and it’s fun to just think back to all of those memories now."
After taking home some medals at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer, the Washington, D.C. native is diving into training for the 2024 Olympics, which will take place in Paris.
For some, it may be too soon to get into the pool again, but for Ledecky, that is hardly the case.
"I don’t have too much trouble finding different ways to motivate myself, and I think I am just always reminding myself of my goals and trying to find a couple of things each practice to work on," she shares. "I think overall I try to set a plan of how I am going to achieve my goals and what are the five to 10 things that I really need to focus in on. I am pretty strong mentally in terms of knowing how to push myself and have other people around me push me. I kind of have so many years of experience now that I know what I need to do, I know what I need to say to myself to get to that next level in practice."
The cherry on top of her amazing career is sharing her success with others.
"I have been swimming since I was six years old, so for 18 years, I just think all of the different groups of people I have met along the way, so whether that was the summer league swim team I started out with, I am still really good friends with people I have met when I was six years old, to high school swimming and my high school friends to club swimming to college swimming – those are some of my best friends now and even internationally," she says. "I have met people from all over the world, I stay in touch with people from all over the world, and so it’s kind of all these little pockets of friendships and communities I feel a part of and I just look at that and look at how swimming has provided that for me and think that that is a really special part of my career and a special part of the sport I am a part of."
Since Ledecky is constantly moving her body and swimming, she always reaches for her chocolate milk, as it's always been her "go-to recovery drink since I was about 13 years old," she says.
"Within 30 minutes of a practice or a race, I try to get that chocolate milk in," she explains. "I have really recognized the importance of recovery and everything you do outside of the pool impacts your performance in the pool, so that is recovery, that is nutrition, what you’re eating, what you’re drinking, how you’re sleeping, just all of those little things that add up and can make a difference in races and be the difference maker between first or second or third. Swimming has very little room for error, and there are sometimes really close races, so you want to have that confidence that you’re doing everything that you can to be your best and for me chocolate milk is a part of that recovery routine."