SILVER SPRING – Local Olympians stressed the importance of inspiring children to reach for their athletic dreams at a ceremony honoring their lofty feat at the Rio Olympics – seven gold medals.
A young local swimmer found that very inspiration in Bethesda Olympian Katie Ledecky’s awe-inspiring four gold medals at the summer Olympics, dedicating herself to her beloved sport year-round.
Like millions of Americans, Ellie Pearson and her family sat inside in August and watched the games in Rio de Janeiro, but Ledecky’s achievement had a special impact on her.
“That was it for her,” said Ellie’s mother, Laura Pearson.
“When she saw Katie Ledecky swim, she wanted to swim all year round,” Laura Pearson said.
On Dec. 19, people packed into the Silver Spring Civic Center to catch a glimpse as the County honored three of its Olympians, Katie Ledecky, Jack Conger and Ashley Nee.
“Again, we just all really appreciate the support we’ve received from the community, and hopefully we’re inspiring little kids to go after their dreams,” Ledecky said. “I never believed I would make it to the Olympics, but just through hard work and surrounding myself with the right people and working hard got me to this point.”
At the event, Gabe Albornoz, director of the Montgomery County Recreation Department, said the County would create a sports hall of fame and that the four Olympic athletes from the County, Ledecky, Conger, Nee and Helen Maroulis, who could not attend the event due to a scheduling conflict, would be among the first inductees.
The four county Olympians took home seven medals collectively, six of them gold.
Ledecky, a graduate of Stone Ridge of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, competed in her second Olympics and left Rio as one of the United States’ most decorated female swimmers. Our Lady of Good Counsel graduate Conger took the gold as part of the United States’ 4 x 200 meter freestyle in Rio.
“I just wanted to thank everyone in Montgomery County for always supporting me and helping me achieve my dreams,” Conger said in his first post-Olympics speech. “And you know, going to Rio really made me realize how badly I still want to go to Tokyo and keep fighting and keep moving forward.”
After missing the 2008 Beijing Olympics with an injury and missing the 2012 London games, Nee, a graduate of Northwest High School, bounced back and made her first Olympics, competing in canoe slalom racing in the Rio Olympics.
Maroulis, a graduate of Magruder High School, gave the United States its first women’s wrestling gold medal whens she beat 13-time champion Saori Yoshida.
The civic center was filled to capacity as parents and their kids tried to get a glimpse of the Olympians. After the ceremony, Ledecky, Conger and Nee posed for photos with kids and their parents.
“The kids that came out today were incredible,” Nee said. “I wish I could stay all night and take pictures. That is why we do this. That is what keeps me in the cold water everyday.”
Monday night was a bit of deja vu for the Rosenthal family.
Four years ago, Shoshana Rosenthal, 13, and her family had met Montgomery County’s youngest gold medalist – Ledecky – at a ceremony honoring local Olympians. Shoshana and her family once posed for a photo with Ledecky as she wore the gold medal for the 800-meter freestyle in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“She’s an inspiration, and I also enjoy swimming,” Shoshana said.
Four years later, the family would again pose for another photo with Ledecky, this time after Ledecky won four gold medals and one silver medal and broke two world records in Rio de Janeiro.
“Hopefully, seeing three of us up there and knowing we all came from this County – hopefully, that inspires all those little kids that were out there to work towards their dreams whether it’s in their sport, in school or whatever it is to go for the top and work towards that,” Ledecky said.