Winning state titles are great, but swimming in the same pool as an Olympian, well that’s another story.
Northport's Chloe Stepanek had that opportunity when she competed against five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky on Nov. 30 at the 2018 U.S. Winter National Championships in Greensboro, N.C., just three weeks after capturing back-to-back state titles in two different events.
“The day before I swam in the preliminaries, I saw that Ledecky was swimming in the 400 free and wondered what it must be like for everybody to race against her,” Stepanek said. “Later that night, I looked at the psych sheet and saw that she was in lane four and I was in lane seven for our race. I said to myself ‘I guess I’m going to find out tomorrow.’”
Stepanek might not have won the 200-meter freestyle preliminary heat, but her time of 2:01.99 earned her a spot in the ‘B’ final.
Ledecky won the race in 1:56.63 and went on to win the ‘A’ final in 1:55.32.
“It was a fast heat and it was really motivating,” Stepanek said. “I got a best time out of it and I was really happy with that.”
Stepanek won the 'B' final that night in 2:02.14, the fastest time of any swimmer at the meet 18 years old and under.
At the end of the meet, an 18-and-under National Champion is crowned for each event. Stepanek didn't even realize she won until the following day.
“At first, I thought I didn’t get it because there was a girl that was 18 in the ‘A’ final, but since she was from another country, she couldn’t receive the award,” Stepanek said. “The next day they told me that I was getting a medal. Being that it was my first individual medal at a USA Swimming Championship Series meet, and the fact that it was a gold, is pretty cool.”