Olympian Katie Ledecky Says 'Go for the Gold' After She's Named Best Female Athlete at 2022 ESPY Awards

"Find something you really love, that you're good at, that can be a positive force in our world," champion swimmer Katie Ledecky said at the 2022 ESPYs

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 20: Katie Ledecky attends the 2022 ESPYs at Dolby Theatre on July 20, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky was named best female athlete at the 2022 ESPY Awards on Wednesday night.

"I'd like to think this ESPY is shared with everyone who has touched my life," Ledecky said while accepting her award for the "Best Athlete, Women's Sports" category.

During her speech, the 25-year-old called on parents to teach their children how to swim, something she called a "really important life skill."

Ledecky also encouraged young people to "find something you really love, that you're good at, that can be a positive force in our world."

"Something that can inspire somebody else, something that can help somebody else, anything that can change our world," she said. "There are so many heroes, not just in sports, but all around us... look to those people as role models, and go for the gold."

Last month, Ledecky won four gold medals in four events at the world championships in Budapest, marking a decade since she began taking the sport by storm.

"It's pretty wild because I feel like just yesterday I was in Barcelona at my first worlds," she said, per The Guardian. "It's awesome representing Team USA year after year, and it's an honor and a privilege, and it's why I work hard."

The Stanford University graduate has won 10 Olympic medals (seven gold) and 22 world championship medals (19 gold), a number unsurpassed by any other female swimmer.

Each time she's on the podium and holding a medal, Ledecky says, is a chance to soak in her years of work and how it has paid off.

"It's an incredible feeling," she told PEOPLE before traveling to Tokyo for the Summer Games.

"In London and Rio, I had my family there and it's just a great feeling to see them and share that moment with them while I was on the podium and hear the national anthem," she said of her two previous Olympic appearances. "It's such an honor to represent your country and to do it at the highest level and to reach the podium. And it's kind of a moment of reflection, I think — kind of like a little meditation."

Katie Ledecky

Three other female athletes were nominated for the "Best Athlete, Women's Sports" ESPY award, including gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, Ukrainian Paralympic superstar Oksana Masters, and WNBA star Candace Parker.

Lee, 19, made history when she competed for Team USA at the Tokyo Summer Games last year. Not only was she the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast, but she also became the first Hmong American Olympic gold medalist when she won the coveted all-around gold.

"Growing up, I didn't see a lot of Asian-American women on the U.S. Gymnastics team, so to be one of the first Hmong Americans to win the Olympic gold medal is just absolutely amazing," she said in a public service announcement for Paramount and SeeHer. The group advocates for accurate portrayals of women and girls in advertising and media.

Also, coming off her first season competing at Auburn University, Lee may be making a run for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

The gold medalist was named to the roster of the Junior and Senior Women's National Team members for a camp and Pan American Championships selection earlier this month in Katy, Texas, according to USA Gymnastics.

Masters, 32, was born with multiple congenital disabilities, including webbed fingers, six toes on each foot, one kidney, and the lack of weight-bearing bones in her legs, all caused by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

The skier, cyclist, and biathlete was abandoned by her parents as an infant.

She spent the first seven years of her life fighting to stay alive in several Ukrainian orphanages until an American university professor eventually adopted her in 1996.

RELATED VIDEO: Oksana Masters Donated Some of Her Prize Money to No Child Forgotten: "I Didn't Have That…in Ukraine"

"I endured a lot of physical, sexual, and mental abuse, along with starvation," Masters recalls, who was recently named as one of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World for her work challenging and inspiring others with disabilities.

In the following years, she emerged as a Paralympic icon, winning an array of medals, including seven (three gold, four silver) in Beijing in biathlon and cross-country events, bringing her career medal count to 16, according to ESPN.

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"I just fell in love with the idea that someone like me could represent something so much bigger than myself through sports," she told PEOPLE.

Last month, Parker, 36, became the first WNBA player in league history to reach 6,000-plus points, 3,000-plus rebounds, and 1,500-plus assists in a victory against the Connecticut Sun where she had a near triple-double (25 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists).

WNBA star Candace Parker
Stacey Wescott/getty

The veteran WNBA player recorded her third career triple-double in June and became the first player ever to reach that number. (Sabrina Ionescu matched the record earlier this month.)

Just before the season's tip, the standout Chicago Sky forward/center gave birth to her second son, Airr Larry, with wife Anna Petrakova. Parker is also a mom to 12-year-old daughter Lailaa from a previous relationship.

Last season, Parker led her team to its first-ever WNBA championship over the Phoenix Mercury.

In 2021, tennis player Naomi Osaka was named the best female athlete.

The ESPY Awards, hosted by four-time NBA Champion Stephen Curry, is airing live Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Written by Anna Caplan

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