Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, now a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, returned to Little Flower School in Bethesda on Oct. 5 to thank her alma mater for its support. She graduated from Little Flower School in 2011. In the photo above, she shows Little Flower students her gold medal.
Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, now a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, returned to Little Flower School in Bethesda on Oct. 5 to thank her alma mater for its support. She graduated from Little Flower School in 2011. In the photo above, she shows Little Flower students her gold medal.
Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky recently visited her alma mater, Little Flower School, where she autographed an Olympic flag that will hang in the Bethesda school's gymnasium, leaving extra room, she said, for future signatures.

"When one of you comes back as an Olympian, you can sign it too," she said. "...I encourage all of you guys to take academics and sports to the next level and work hard."

Ledecky, who graduated from Little Flower in 2011, returned to her former elementary school on Oct. 5 and showed the students, teachers and staff the gold medal she won for the 800-meter freestyle women's swim race during the London Olympics in August. She also took lots of their questions and thanked them for their support.

"I knew I had all you guys cheering for me," said 15-year-old Ledecky, a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. "Thank you."

In the last few weeks, Ledecky has had a whirlwind of hometown excitement, visiting the White House, throwing out the first pitch at a Nationals baseball game, and being honored during recent Redskins and Ravens games. But coming home to Little Flower School seemed especially meaningful for Ledecky.

"It's great to back here and share the moment with them," Ledecky told the Catholic Standard. "This is where I grew up, and they've been so supportive."

Ledecky, who was the youngest U.S. Olympian competing in the 2012 London summer games, said her memories of her Little Flowers years - from pre-K through eighth grade - are very fond. "I had great classmates and teachers and fun with all of them," she said. "We've stayed close."

The students presented Ledecky with homemade cards, photographs, posters, a poem, flowers, as well as a colorful print of the school and a T-shirt made especially for "Katie Ledecky Day" at Little Flower. This school year marks the 60th anniversary of Little Flower School, which in 2008 won a National Blue Ribbon honor from the U.S. Department of Education.

"It's very exciting for us. She's such a nice young girl, and we are so proud of her," said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rosemaron Rynn, Little Flower's principal, of Ledecky's return visit.

Ledecky spent much of the time answering the kids' questions.

"What was going through your mind before your race?" one student asked.

"When I first walked out, it was really loud, but I felt really calm," she said. "For the prelim (the day before), I was nervous and shaking. But before the final, Michael Phelps gave me a high-five in the ready room, and for the biggest race of my life, I felt great."

She said she raced before a crowd of 17,500, which included her family, teammates and the British Royal couple, Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge. Ledecky won the race in 8 minutes 14.63 seconds, nearly breaking the world record and setting a new American record.

Many of the students' questions centered on, "Did you ever think you'd be an Olympic athlete?"

Ledecky told them she never dreamed it was possible and recalled as a child watching the Olympics on television.

"When I was watching four years ago, I thought you had to be some kind of superhero to qualify," she said. "...When I was your age, it seemed so far-fetched."

Winning the gold, she said, "(It) was an unbelievable feeling, touching the wall and then to be on the podium."

A third grade girl raised her hand and meekly asked Ledecky, "Are you still on my swim team?" To which, Ledecky quickly replied, "Palisades? Yes I am!" During the summers, Ledecky swims for her Bethesda community pool club - the Palisades Porpoises.

Ledecky told the Catholic Standard she is back on her regular swim practice routine and is looking forward to the Stone Ridge Gators' swim team season that begins in a few weeks.

When asked about whether she'll compete in the 2016 Olympics, Ledecky told the kids, "We'll see. I'd love to. I have to qualify again."

As the kids exited the gymnasium, where years ago Ledecky had a short-lived CYO basketball career, they each got a chance to touch her gold medal.

"It's amazing she made it to the Olympics," said second-grader Hattie Leasure. "I'm really proud of her, and she's my neighbor."

In thanking Ledecky for her visit, Sister Rosemaron said it was not only a proud and celebratory moment for the Little Flower School community, but she also spoke of the lasting impact Ledecky will have on the youngsters' lives.

"You've made each of them think it is possible to be an Olympian," Sister Rosemaron said.