“People throw numbers around, but I don’t really pay attention to any of that,” she told Washington, D.C.’s WTOP before her freshman year began, having just picked out her bedding for her dorm room. “And I’m just going to do what I want to do. And that’s compete [in college] and be with a really great team, be with a lot of my friends, go to class with them, learn a lot. And I think that this is what’s going to help me moving forward and I’m excited for what Stanford holds.”
As a freshman, she set 12 NCAA records and nine American records and in 2017 led Stanford to its first NCAA Championship since 1998. They repeated the following year, Ledecky swimming a mile and Stanford winning the title on March 17, 2018, her 21st birthday.
Which was probably celebrated pretty moderately by the young lady who said no to Olympic-ring tattoos (“I did not get one in 2012 and I do not plan on getting one,” she told WTOP after Rio in 2016) and eschews music pounding in her earbuds for a chat with friends or quiet contemplation before a race.
Dave Marsh, former coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s team, called Ledecky “a mystery,” telling Sports Illustrated in 2016, “She has a wonderful family, has everything, really, that she wants; she’s a beautiful person with seemingly no dark sides. But she has this energy stirring in her, not just at meets but at practice. What is she pursuing? Her personal best, but she’s doing it with fury. Where’s the fury coming from? We don’t know, but the stove is running hot.”