During the Rio Olympics, Team USA swimmer Katie Ledecky has out-swam the competition to four gold medals — and she shows no signs of stopping. She won the 800-meter freestyle 11 seconds ahead of everyone else, an incredible world-record-smashing swim that has rightfully gone viral as a video on the internet. But the 19-year-old swimmer isn't the only fast one in the pool in her family. Ledecky's mother and brother were competitive swimmers, too, according to Sports Illustrated, and they, along with the rest of the Olympian's family, inspired the gold medalist's rise to the top of her game.
Ledecky's international dominance began with a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle in the 2012 London Olympics, but her swim career itself began with her family. Her dad, David, a Harvard and Yale-trained lawyer, left his job as an attorney in 2011 to help her train, according to The Washington Post. Ledecky told WBUR that she was inspired to start swimming at age six when her older brother Michael joined a swim team — and she wanted to follow his lead. "I just always enjoyed swimming with him and I think that's how I really found my love of the sport," she said. I think if I didn't have my brother swimming with me, I don't know if I would have loved it as much as I did and still do."
In May, Michael graduated from Harvard, where he served as the university's swim club practice coordinator and associate executive sports editor of The Harvard Crimson, according to his LinkedIn profile. He even covered Katie's Olympic swimming trials for the college newspaper. "My Crimson experience was inseparably intertwined with my sister’s rise to the top of her sport," he wrote in The Harvard Crimson. "As I watched her smash world records and rack up wins, she not only inspired me as her number one fan but also placed in perspective the stories I’ve had the chance to tell in these pages.
The Ledecky siblings' early start in swimming can be credited to their mother Mary Gen Ledecky (née Hagan), who had a successful college swimming career for the College of Great Falls in Montana and the University of New Mexico. The former hospital administrator joined the Palisades Swim & Tennis Club in Maryland as an adult because her neighborhood pool had a seven-year waiting list, and then Michael requested to join a team, according to Sports Illustrated.
In college, Mary Gen excelled at sprints and short-distance events, according to the University of New Mexico. She qualified for national competitions three times thanks to her hard work, Mary Gen's UNM coach Rick Klatt told Sports Illustrated. “Every set she did in practice, every race Mary Gen swam, she was as tired as anyone could get,” he said. “Katie’s at a different level, but her mom was that kind of worker. I can remember her heaving for air after races. There was never any lack of effort in any workout or any meet. She was going after it as hard as she could.”
And Mary Gen's own interest swimming can be traced to her father Ed Hagan, the chairman of the Williston, North Dakota, parks board and a former Navy doctor. In the 1950s, he would treat children who almost drowned in the Missouri River every summer and, in 1956, his own 4-year-old daughter fell off a dock during a family vacation, according to Sports Illustrated. After that, Hagan wanted his kids to learn how to swim and campaigned to have an Olympic-sized pool built in the town in the 1960s, where Mary Gen would grow up swimming as a teenager, reported the magazine.
Clearly, Katie's gold medals and legendary pool performances have been a long, long time in the making.