In post-Ledecky era, Stone Ridge helps athletes reach ‘full potential,’ including rising swimming stars
Apr 24, 2019
The record board in the pool at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland is filled with records held by five-time Olympic gold-medalist Katie Ledecky, an alumna of the school. But a few rising stars in the school’s swimming program have the potential to change that – including Erin Gemmell, the daughter of Ledecky’s coach, who will be joining the high school swim team in the fall.
Since Ledecky swam at Stone Ridge, the swim team has grown, now including about 50 students. Swimming used to be open to all students who wished to join, but in recent years they have started to make cuts in order to keep the number of swimmers at a reasonable level. This year, they won the National Catholic High School Swim and Dive Championship, hosted at Loyola University in Baltimore, out of 27 schools and 287 total girls competing.
Bob Walker, the team’s coach who was named as Girls’ Coach of the Meet for the National Catholic High School Swim and Dive Championship, said having Ledecky receive her first gold medal while attending Stone Ridge “took athletics to a level we had never seen before” at the school. She helped pave the way for other girls as the school learned how to best support athletes training at the highest level, Walker said, noting that the school wants to “allow our students to reach their fullest potential.”
Middle school swim coach Monica Barry said this shift “started a good movement toward being proud of the school not only for academics, but also for athletics.”
During the middle school championship meet this year, Gemmell, who is on USA Swimming’s National Junior Team, swam the 200-meter freestyle faster than Ledecky did when she swam in that event in eighth grade. Previously, at the Junior Nationals meet last summer, Gemmell won the 200-meter free for the 18 and under age group at age 13, becoming the second fastest 13-year-old ever to swim that event. She had been seeded sixth for the event and did not expect to win.“
When I beat them, I was so surprised,” she recalled.
Gemmell said what she loves about swimming is the friends she makes through the sport and “the feeling when you finish” and know, “I did better than I thought I could.”
Next year, Gemmell said she is looking forward to being a part of the high school team, and hopes to put a record on the high school swimming record board. After sometimes swimming in the same lane as Ledecky when she comes home to practice, Gemmell said she has learned that the Olympian “does not not try, ever.”
Another one of the rising stars in Stone Ridge swimming is junior Phoebe Bacon, who was named Swimmer of the Meet at the National Catholic High School Swim and Dive Championship this year. Like Gemmell, she also swims for the Nation’s Capital Swim Club (NCAP). Bacon qualified this year for USA Swimming’s National Team, which is made up of all of the top swimmers in the country, including Ledecky.
When she is swimming for Stone Ridge, Bacon tells her coach to put her in whatever event will get the most points for the team, rather than focusing on what event she individually wants to swim.“It is about how we as a team can succeed the most,” she said.
Bacon said she likes going to meets where she can cheer on her teammates at Stone Ridge and also other swimmers she knows from her club swim team “I love swimming because of all of the people I meet,” said Bacon, noting that she often gets to travel to other states or countries to train and compete. “When they are having a good practice or meet, I get excited for them.”
Over the summer, both Bacon and Gemmell will be attending the National Junior Team Camp in Colorado Springs, where they will train alongside some of the fastest young swimmers in the country.
Middle school coach Monica Barry noted that what sets these two swimmers apart is their “innate talent” and their drive to do well, which includes things like eating a good diet. Like their fellow Stone Ridge gator, Ledecky, who has frequently talked about the importance of balance in her life, both swimmers are also good students, said Barry.
Both girls see their participation in Stone Ridge swimming as a way to help the team, rather than to win individual accolades. After being named swimmer of the meet at the National Catholic High School Swim and Dive Championship, Bacon said, “I didn’t care too much if I was going to win an event or get an award. I wanted our team to win.”
Next year, she will be one of the team captains, and is looking forward to leading the team in cheers before every meet. She also hopes to help the new students get to know the older students better by planning social events like team lunches or movies. And though she said the team has not adopted the habit of Ledecky to pray a “Hail Mary” before every race, a team prayer might be another tradition started by the new captain.
Walker said his hopes for the future of the team are to always strive to be the best they can be and to continue “providing an opportunity for those swimmers [and] divers attending Stone Ridge to have a competitive, instructive and fun program as a student athlete on our campus.”
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