Five time Olympic gold medalist, world record holder for the 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyle, Katie Ledecky has turned down 5 million (some reports say annually) endorsement deals to swim for Stanford University and attend Stanford University as an amateur athlete. Ledecky will swim for Stanford on a sports scholarship that won’t entirely cover the tuition to attend the prestigious university. If she took the 5 million dollars she could more than afford the college experience. What on earth would convince someone to turn down that type of money? Dreams, goals and being smart, that’s what convinces someone to turn down that type of money.
On the morning sports talk show today they were carrying on how stupid she was to turn down the endorsements. “Take the MONEY!” they exclaimed. Take the money and still go to college, or “go to college later and continue to train for the Tokyo Olympics.” For those of us who never will experience a 5 million dollar endorsement deal that sounds so stupid; you just don’t turn down that type of money. Yet Ledecky did. Ledecky said “I just want to do the college experience” (ESPN radio). Ledecky already postponed her freshman year in college to train for the Olympics.
I believe something greater is going on here. Ledecky is being smart; she knows that there has to be something beyond sports, beyond the pool. She has a dream and she is going out to achieve it. She wants to swim for Stanford, she wants the “college experience” and she wants a degree to do something when she can’t swim competitively anymore.
There is something else at play here. Women tend to peak with swimming between 19 and 20 (Ledecky is 19 making her 23 for Tokyo), while guys don’t peak until their mid-20’s. Ledecky knows that she is at the height of her swimming career, certainly she will continue to train for Tokyo but there are no guarantees, injuries happen, the limelight changes you (just ask Lochte). She achieved her dream of swimming in the Olympics; she achieved her dream of getting gold medals and setting world records. Now she wants to fulfill her dream of swimming at Stanford, of going to college and getting an education. Maybe she dreams of something even bigger than 5 million dollars.
Money tarnishes, and gets spent while wisdom, education, knowledge continues long after the money is gone.