Review: Katie Ledecky’s “Just Add Water” Further Proves What We Already Know

Note: Opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of SwimSwam as a whole.

If you follow swimming closely, you probably have a sense of what Katie Ledecky‘s public persona is like. The most decorated female swimmer of all-time comes off as nonchalant and reserved, and her identity as a swimmer revolves around being a better version of who she was before — even if that version of her is better than what any other woman in history has ever accomplished. Her entire career has been about focusing on herself and the people close to her, as she’s never been one to give into rivalries, controversy, or any other outside noise (unless it’s doping, which she has been very vocal against in the past).

So if you bought Ledecky’s autobiography “Just Add Water” in hopes of discovering juicy details that she’s never spoken about, you’ll probably be disappointed. The book, while interesting, is simply a reaffirmation of her values.

“Just Add Water” is mostly chronological. There are chapters dedicated to pivotal moments in her swimming career (her childhood, her collegiate career at Stanford, the three Olympic Games she’s competed in, the 2015 and 2019 World Championships, the COVID-19 pandemic), and there’s chapters on three of her four coaches (Yuri Suguiyama, Bruce Gemmell, and Anthony Nesty) where she talks about her relationship with those coaches at certain stages in her life. Mixed in between, though, are chapters about her parents, her brother, and her four grandparents, as well as chapters about her values like anti-doping and uplifting women in sports.

I found Ledecky’s book to be very predictable, but that doesn’t mean I was bored. Most of the facts she told about her life were ones that I already knew, but what I got greater insight into was how she felt about certain things. For example, I learned about just how much she valued her extended family from the way she described her two sets of grandparents. She went into such great detail to talk about their pasts and their relationships with her, and although those things don’t feel super relevant to her career, they clearly meant a lot to her and shaped who she was as person. On the contrary, separating from her family and straying away from a routine life made the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly the most difficult period of her life.

Ledecky describes her lifestyle as that of a “sporty nun,” maintaining a strict schedule and striving to be in bed by 9 p.m. every night. Her greatest love aside from her family is the monotonous rigor of training for distance races, and she’s dedicated almost her entire life toward trying to do it the best (she admits that she enjoys training even more swimming). I can sense her passion when she talks about her galloping stroke, her pacing strategy or her closing speed more than with anything else — reading her book proved to me that while some athletes are bigger than their sport, Ledecky is her sport.

Some subjects matters that have been major talking points in Ledecky’s career among the swimming fan base, such as her lack of improvement following the 2016 Olympics or her “rivalry” in the 400 freestyle with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, were barely addressed in the book (and the latter point was even downplayed by her). But there were also some moments where she revealed things about her that were never public before, such as her struggle with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that causes reduced blood flow when one stands up.

But perhaps my favorite part of “Just Add Water” was when Ledecky expressed a rare hesitancy with her future, in contrary with her seemingly linear life trajectory. At the end of her book, she talked about how her “rigorous devotion to training has not been awesome for [her] romantic life,” never having been in a serious relationship, and her fear of coming off as closed off due to her dedication to swimming. And while she’s content with her lifestyle, she did say that she one day wants to have a family, which would conflict with her career at this point. She describes the pressure of choosing between an athletic career and a family as an issue unique to female athletes, and something that gives her “mixed feelings.” That part of the book, in my opinion, was when she sounded the most vulnerable.

It’s moments like those that really humanize Ledecky to me, showing that while she’s world record holder, she also faces the same struggles that everyone else does.

Yes, from a content perspective, Ledecky probably didn’t answer the questions that swimming fans have wanted to know about her (and quite frankly, I don’t think she cares). But the deeper insight into what we already knew about her made reading “Just Add Water” all worth it.

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Can’t kick can’t pull
13 days ago

Deleted

Last edited 13 days ago by Can’t kick can’t pull
taa
13 days ago

did she write the whole thing herself? Thats my biggest issue with any athlete bio its just a ghost writer usually.

Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  taa
13 days ago

They’re all written by ghostwriters – storytelling is a craft that takes decades to learn, and publishing a book is an expensive exercise. There needs to be a professional who can capture their voice and story in a compelling (and commercial) way.

Speedhist
Reply to  Fraser Thorpe
6 days ago

Actually it isn’t that tough to write a book. If a ghostwriter was a highly skilled professional they would be writing their own books…rather than haunting ghost land or

Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  Speedhist
6 days ago

Rubbish . Ghostwriters are writers under their own name too, but knowing how to tell someone else’s story in their own voice is a lucrative skill – the entire ‘auto’biographical arm of the publishing industry is built on ghostwriters.

‘It isn’t that hard to write a book’ 🙄 just shows how disingenuous this comment is.

jamesjabc
Reply to  taa
13 days ago

No athlete has ever written their whole book themselves. It was surely mostly ghostwritten

Genevieve Nnaji
Reply to  taa
13 days ago

Unless they’re writer themselves, most autobiography is written by ghostwriter.

Richard
13 days ago

Fascinating book, and looks like it has been on the NYTimes best seller list for a couple of weeks now. I learned an awful lot about Ledecky’s thought process and her communities, and her swimming and non-swimming influences, and she does talk a lot about meaningful interactions with other swimmers if that is your bag (all the way from summer league swimmers to M. Phelps, B. Hansen, R. Adlington, L. Friis, S. Manuel, Alex Shackell, Stanford teammates, coaches, etc). Also, I thought there were a lot of new, behind-the-scenes details, but I don’t have access like a swim writer-blogger.

Helk bengur
Reply to  Richard
13 days ago

No titmus?

jeff
Reply to  Helk bengur
13 days ago

I feel like that rivalry was always super overplayed on here, or at least something that Katie didn’t care about much. I can see why Adlington and Friis were relevant; those were swimmers she was competing against as a young teenager who still had something to prove to the world

Nick B
13 days ago

I don’t think we were expecting an Amaury Leveaux type of book from her.

She might possibly lament the fact that she’s never been in a serious relationship, however, the sacrifices she’s made have paid off, and will in the future. She’ll retire from the sport with millions, and have plenty of resources to do whatever she likes.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Nick B
13 days ago

Wait, what’s in the Leveaux book??

Genevieve Nnaji
Reply to  Steve Nolan
13 days ago

Party and coke in London

MarkB
Reply to  Genevieve Nnaji
12 days ago

He should look up Ron A. and Katie G.

Wait, are we talking about the same thing?

CoachLuke
13 days ago

this book pushed me over the edge…of getting back into the pool, been absolutely loving it so far.

jane
13 days ago

katie wants to date

Hank
13 days ago

Is her 1500m WR untouchable? Summer has shown she could make a run at the 800m WR potentially, but doesn’t appear to be interested in that at the moment. Perhaps no one wants to suffer as much as Ledecky and that is why the 1500m WR is so out of reach.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Hank
13 days ago

Nah. Might take a decades or two, or it might get broken before LA. But it’ll go down.

SwimCoach
Reply to  Hank
13 days ago

Only records that look untouchable are ones where competitors had an advantage no longer “available”. Track and field has some records from the 80s, especially on the women’s side, that are straight up bonkers.

For swimming’s it’s some of those supersuited records in the 200 to 400 range. But even some of those are under attack.

Hank
Reply to  SwimCoach
13 days ago

Like Liu Zige or Paul Biedermann or Cielo

Troyy
Reply to  Hank
12 days ago

Cielo’s WR isn’t on the same level as the other two.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  SwimCoach
13 days ago

Right, those will go down too.

I’m not projecting any current swimmer to break the 200 fly WR, but think about how many “unexpected” WRs there have been in the last couple years. (And by “unexpected” I mean, swimmers that you wouldn’t have heard about the quad before they broke the record – think McIntosh, Popovici/Pan.)

taa
Reply to  Hank
13 days ago

Its totally out of reach until it isn’t. It will happen when another generational talent comes along it could be in 5-10 year or it could be 20-30. My estimate is she is still top 3 all time in this event in 50 years. This is biological female only.

MarkB
Reply to  taa
12 days ago

Thanks for adding that last sentence.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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