Olympic swim medalists embrace Catholic connections
Katie Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at all-girls' Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., this fall, says she always prays the Hail Mary before races.
Ledecky, who won the Olympic gold medal in women's 800 freestyle Aug. 3, said her strong Catholic faith keeps her focused on God and what matters most in life. She and her family are longtime parishioners of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda.
"I also love going to Mass every week. It's a great chance to reflect and connect with God. (My faith) has been a big part of my life since I was born," she told the Catholic Standard, newspaper the Washington Archdiocese, in an interview before heading to London for the Summer Olympics.
Ledecky said she has always loved St. Anne, the mother of Mary, and chose her name for confirmation. Because her birthday is March 17, Ledecky also has a special devotion to St. Patrick.
With her Stone Ridge classmates, teachers and friends cheering her on during a viewing rally at Stone Ridge School, the teen swimmer touched the wall with a time of 8.14.63, nearly breaking the world record set in 2008.
"We are so proud of her and so inspired by her," said Catherine Ronan Karrels, Stone Ridge's head of school, who led the gathering in a prayer for Ledecky before her race began. “This is such a great gift to us to cheer for a living example of what a young person can achieve with great talent, determination and heart.”
Wearing "Ledecky Team USA" T-shirts and waving American flags, more than 300 members of the Stone Ridge community, including students, alumnae and school parents, turned out to watch Ledecky's race in an online live stream of Olympic coverage.
"I'm unbelievably proud of her," said Allie Rock, a rising junior at Stone Ridge. "She's the perfect example of how hard work pays off, and she's worked so hard for this. She totally deserved this. We are so happy for her."
As Ledecky led at every turn and maintained the lead for the entire 16-lap race, her admirers roared with excitement, erupting in the wildest cheers and applause when she finished first to win the gold.
"She's so great, and we all love her," said Martha Betubiza, one of Ledecky's fellow sophomores, adding that she and her classmates hope to be part of a "Welcome home Katie Ledecky" gathering at Dulles Airport when she returns from the Olympics, which end Aug. 12.
"She's so hard-working, modest and doesn't really talk about swimming," said classmate Ella Hartsoe, describing Ledecky. "She's just so nice to everyone."
For swimmer Missy Franklin, a rising senior at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, "there is nothing like wearing a cap with my country's flag on it."
"I always remember, though,” she told the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese, “that I'm not just representing the U.S. but also my family, friends, team, school and Colorado!"
She made those comments early this year before she earned a spot on the U.S. women's Olympic swimming team, before she was a four-time gold medalist. In London, she earned gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, and as a member of the 4x200-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley relay teams. She also earned a bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
Franklin is not a Catholic, but she said life as a student at a Jesuit-run high school has her considering joining the church.
"My experiences at Regis Jesuit have absolutely impacted my spiritual life, in so many ways," she said. “I am considering converting to Catholicism.
"Going into Regis Jesuit, my faith was not a very big aspect of my life. Taking my first theology classes, going to my first Masses, going on my first retreats, I began to realize how important God is in my life and how much I love him and need him.”
Franklin said her relationship with God grew so much in her first three years at the school. "I am very happy with where I am with him right now, although there is a lot of more work to do," she added.
On the men’s side, Conor Dwyer — who joined Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Ricky Berens in winning the men's 4x200 freestyle relay July 31 — is a graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill. He also competed in the 400 freestyle.