Sports

In race for another gold, Ledecky relies on grace of God

"The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me..."

USA's Katie Ledecky competes in a Women's 200m Freestyle heat during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016.  / AFP PHOTO / François-Xavier MARIT

AFP PHOTO / François-Xavier MARIT

Katie Ledecky has become the “Michael Jordan” of swimming. After winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Ledecky proceeded to set 12 world records. On Sunday, she won her first gold medal of the Rio Olympics and set a new world record, crushing her old record for the 400-meter freestyle. She has done what most swimmers only dream of doing.

Her success is inspiring and many wonder how she is able to remain at such a high level of athletic perfection while the world watches. The pressure at the Olympic games is enormous and has caused others to have nervous breakdowns.

What is her secret to success? How does she remain calm and collected, knowing that everyone expects her to break another record?

In a recent interview with the Catholic Standard she revealed, “I do say a prayer – or two – before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me.”

USA's Katie Ledecky poses on the podium with her gold medal after she won the Women's 200m Freestyle Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 9, 2016.   / AFP PHOTO / Odd Andersen
USA's Katie Ledecky poses on the podium with her gold medal after she won the Women's 200m Freestyle Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 9, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Odd Andersen

Ledecky was born and raised Catholic, attending Catholic schools all the way through high school. Her parents were supportive at an early age of her passion for swimming, encouraging her at the age of six to “just try to make it across the entire length of the pool without stopping.” It was her older brother who inspired Ledecky to start swimming, even though she wasn’t very good at it at the time.

Along with her strong family life, Ledecky credits her education for providing many life lessons that have given her the balance she needed to be successful in the pool. In fact, after winning gold in London, Ledecky went first to visit the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters in Maryland to thank them for all their support throughout the years. She intends to do the same after Rio. This did not surprise the sisters at all, for they recognized her strong Catholic faith during her time at school.  

Referring to her Catholic education, Ledecky highlighted how it made a huge impact on her swimming career. “Going to these schools was important to my swimming – my Catholic schools challenged me, they broadened my perspective and they allowed me to use my mind in ways that take me beyond just thinking about swim practices, swim meets and sports.

“Going to these schools also allowed me to make wonderful friends. Friends, teachers and administrators from my schools have all helped me meet my goals in swimming, and in life generally, by being supportive and caring. The importance of balance in one’s life is a lesson I have learned, and one that I hope will help me in   college and beyond.”

In addition to thanking her Catholic schools for the support and encouragement they gave, Ledecky has also helped her local Catholic community in different ways. Last summer she helped promote the “Walk with Francis” pledge that was organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. In her promotional material, she explains how loving God is not abstract but concrete. and then pledges to support charitable organizations such as Catholic Charities, Shepherd’s Table, and Bikes for the World.

Ledecky is ready to defend her Olympic title in the 800-meter freestyle on Thursday, and hopes to dominate the pool again. When she does, she will be relying not only on her hours and hours of practice, but also on the grace of God. Ledecky knows that with God “all things are possible” and that he will give her strength and peace when she needs it the most.

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Philip Kosloski

Philip Kosloski is a husband and father of five, and staff writer at Aleteia. He also writes for The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer), and blogs at the National Catholic Register.