Catholic News Service photo
Katie Ledecky reacts to her gold medal win in the 800-meter freestyle swim.
Catholic News Service photo
Katie Ledecky reacts to her gold medal win in the 800-meter freestyle swim.
WASHINGTON — Katie Ledecky, a U.S. swimmer from Maryland who says she always prays the Hail Mary before races, won the Olympic gold medal in women's 800 freestyle Aug. 3.

Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., this fall, 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.

She credited the example of men and women religious she has known for inspiration. She called the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught her at Little Flower School in Bethesda, "great role models."

Her godfather, Jesuit Father Jim Shea, provincial of the Maryland Province of the Jesuits, is a close family friend and another Ledecky supporter.

"I couldn't have done any of this without everyone's support," Ledecky said. "My family, teammates, coaches, everyone at Little Flower, Stone Ridge and my neighborhood, all cheering me on and watching. It means so much to me."

She counts her family, which includes her dad, David, her mom, Mary Gen, and her 18-year-old brother, Michael, as among her greatest role models and boosters.

"They never pushed me too hard. They've been so supportive with everything," she said.

Ledecky said watching Michael swim inspired her to take up the sport. She eventually became a distance prodigy.

"I just always loved the social atmosphere and the competitive nature, and the way you work so hard and see yourself improve on a daily basis," she said.

Sister Rosemaron Rynn, principal at Little Flower School, which Ledecky attended, said the school community is rooting for the young swimmer and held a special send-off to the Olympic trials for her.

"She's a great young girl. She's kind, caring, responsible and very unassuming. We just wish her the best, and everyone here is cheering her on," said Sister Rosemaron, who is an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister.

The Stone Ridge community is just as proud of its Olympic swimmer. The school's website lists her swimming accomplishments and even has T-shirts available: "Ledecky Team USA. London 2012. A Stone Ridge Girl."

"Everyone is extremely excited for Katie. This couldn't happen to a more deserving young lady," said Dwayne Bryant, the school's athletic director. "She's a regular, sweet kid, and the true definition of a student athlete."

As she prepared for the London games, Ledecky said she was looking forward to marching in the Olympics opening ceremonies and perhaps doing some sightseeing after her event .She said she was a little awestruck to be training with the swimmers she's looked up to and followed since she was a young girl.