Book Review: Katie Ledecky dishes on what makes an Olympic legend in ‘Just Add Water'

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Katie Ledecky didn’t dream of becoming an Olympian as a kid. It was just something she and her brother, Michael, did at a pool in Maryland that she describes as “maximum chill.” The lack of pressure was part of what drove her deep enjoyment of the sport from an early age, and, consequently, her eye-popping success in the years that followed. This is the story that forms the basis of Ledecky’s memoir, “Just Add Water: My Swimming Life.”

Fifteen years old and in London, Ledecky became the youngest athlete ever to win the women’s 800-meter freestyle at the Olympics. She won six more Olympic gold medals in Rio and Tokyo and broke Michael Phelps’s record of 16 individual gold medals at the World Aquatics Championships. She’s widely regarded as one of the best swimmers of all time, but like many athletes, hers isn’t just a story about her elite athleticism — it’s about the people who helped her get there.

Even when Ledecky made that Olympic final in London, her parents refused to acknowledge that she might have a chance at getting a medal, let alone winning the race. They were more invested in her overall wellbeing. “For them, it was almost like, Olympics, Schlympics,” she writes.

This low-pressure attitude combined with her dogged positivity and high ambition underpins the tone of her writing: “Keeping pace with the male swimmers? Why not? Shaving time off my records? Why not? Doing something significant every time I swim? Why not?” It’s clear to see how she’s maintained the mental toughness required to perform at an elite level for so long — she’s currently in training for the Paris Olympics, which would be her fourth.

She also delves into the techniques and training that elevated her swimming and led to her remarkable dominance as a distance swimmer: her discovery of the “loping stroke” that allowed her to get even faster, her right-side-only breathing that ensured she’d only ever come up for air on her good side, the progression-style training that allowed her to continue to swim extraordinarily long distances without getting injured.

Throughout it all, Ledecky’s writing pulses with her love for the pool and an appreciation for all the people that have shaped her into the champion she is — her coaches, her brother, her grandparents, and, of course, her parents. Readers will feel inspired by Ledecky’s enthusiasm and gratitude for everything she’s worked hard to achieve.

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