The five-time Olympic gold medalist and 14-time world champion Katie Ledecky can add one more accolade to her resume—2017 Female Athlete of the Year. The Associated Press chose Ledecky, with 351 votes, over world-class tennis player Serena Williams (343 votes) and track star Allyson Felix (248 votes).
Finishing second last year in voting to gymnast Simone Biles, her candidacy was strengthened this time around by her performance at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships is Budapest, where she won five gold medals and a silver.
According to the AP, Ledecky is the eighth female swimmer to win the award and the first since Amy Van Dyken in 1996. Among others is 1969 winner Debbie Meyer who Ledecky mirrored at last year’s Rio games by swimming the 200, 400, and 800 freestyles in a single Olympics. She is also the first active college athlete to win since UConn basketball player Rebecca Lobo in 1995.
"It's a really great history of women swimmers and freestylers,” she told AP. “I really look up to a lot of those women."
The 20-year-old Stanford sophomore got her start in swimming at age 6 because she wanted to make friends. Over the years, she has spent time training at Michael Phelps’ alma mater, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in Mt. Washington. Now, she is one of the most decorated American female swimmers in history and is favored to win big at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Despite the pressure of living in a performance-driven and results-driven world, Ledecky enjoys her journey from start to finish and always puts in her best effort.
She is remaining levelheaded and trying to enjoy a normal college experience—living in dorms, swimming with friends, and trying to decide on a major.
"Just being in the college environment has kind of added another layer of fun," she said. "Being with teammates and working toward NCAA championships and having that team goal, that's another thing that is fun. I know the four years goes by very quickly and I want to do everything I can to prepare."