NEW YORK — Katie Ledecky returned home from Rio and got on her bike.
Stanford prohibits freshmen from having cars on campus. Ledecky, now a five-time Olympic champion, still doesn’t have a driver’s license anyway.
So the college-bound swimmer took her three weeks between the Olympics and move-in to acquaint with life on land on two wheels.
Ledecky spent two years volunteering for Bikes for the World in high school, assembling bikes, but her riding was apparently not as smooth as her freestyle stroke.
In late August, Ledecky could often be seen wheeling at a park down the street from her family’s house in Bethesda, Md.
“I was practicing,” Ledecky said, “because I had no reason to bike back home.”
Stanford is nearly 13 square miles, one of the 10 largest colleges or universities in the country.
In September, Ledecky spent that first week in Palo Alto studying a campus map on her phone before setting out to bike to her destinations.
The first days of freshman year are flooded with introductions. To roommates (Ledecky shares a space with three women who recognized her at first sight at move-in). To teammates. To coaches and staff.
The who’s who proved the biggest challenge of Ledecky’s transition.
“I would always feel really embarrassed when I couldn’t remember their [names], and they could remember mine,” she said Monday at the Golden Goggle awards in Times Square.
Stanford fifth-year coach Greg Meehan said a goal was for Ledecky to settle into “a little anonymity on campus.” That has happened.
“On a day-to-day basis, like no selfies, no autographs, nothing that you guys probably expect,” Ledecky told media on a red carpet Monday night. “Everybody at Stanford is special.”
But nobody quite like Ledecky in the pool.
She has barely dragged in competition, easily breaking NCAA records in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyles in her first four meets.
On Saturday, Ledecky lost a freestyle final longer than 100 meters for the first time in nearly three years (to close friend, Stanford teammate and fellow Olympic champion Simone Manuel).
The next day, Ledecky won a 1,650-yard race by one minute, snapping her own American record by 10 seconds.
“She’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime athletes,” Meehan said. “You just never know what she’s going to do.”
Meehan recruited Ledecky, who committed to Stanford back in May 2014, but even he wasn’t privy to Ledecky’s closely guarded goal times for the Rio Olympics that she set back in 2013.
“I kind of had an idea, but she never actually shared them,” Meehan said. “I respect that and appreciate that.”
He started to get to know her on a personal level when she joined the team for a preseason training trip to Hawaii in September.
“She lets you in, little by little,” Meehan said. “The more she does, the more it kind of helps me coach her.”
Ledecky said she and Meehan have “an ever-evolving conversation” about her short- and long-term goals. She wouldn’t reveal much, except that the short-term goals are for the NCAA season and, internationally, her focus remains on freestyle events. For now.
On the team, freshmen have chores like carrying towels at practice. Ledecky is handling her shifts well.
“I definitely give her some mess, every now and then, bug with her,” said Manuel, a redshirt sophomore.
Manuel isn’t alone.
“We joke about the fact that she can’t really put her cap on straight,” Meehan said.
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