(RNS) Katie Ledecky has no obvious physiological advantages as a swimmer.
At 6 feet, the second-time Olympian is not extraordinarily tall compared with her peers. She has no long torso, no wide wingspan like Michael Phelps.
What she has, as The Washington Post recently pointed out, is “a strong core.”
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And that’s not just her muscular middle, but also the foundation of her tight family and strong Catholic faith.
“My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith,” she told the Catholic Standard.
Ledecky surprised the world when — at age 15 and as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team — she won the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, setting a new U.S. record.
Now 19 and still the youngest female swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team, she obliterated her own world record in the event to win gold in the 800-meter free at the Rio Games, making her just the second woman to win three individual freestyle events at a single Olympic Games and the third American woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics.
That gold brought her medal count at the Rio Olympics to five: four golds in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, and a silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
Ledecky likely said a prayer before each event, according to the Catholic Standard.
“I do say a prayer — or two — before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me,” she said.
And she thanked her Catholic school friends afterward in an Instagram post.
This picture captures the joy I have had this past week in representing the USA, as well as the emotions of completing an unforgettable four-year journey. Thank you to everyone for the support. I am honored to be a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swim Team. Special thanks to my family, coach Bruce Gemmell, trainer Lee Sommers, my teammates and coaches over the years from NCAP (and Palisades and Stone Ridge), my friends, my teachers and classmates, everyone back home in Bethesda especially my Stone Ridge and Little Flower friends, and many more. I’m happy to be bringing home some medals and memories! (Photo: @gettyimages)
Ledecky attended Catholic schools through high school, first at Little Flower School, then Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, both in Bethesda, Md. Her godfather Fr. Jim Shea, S.J., and several Stone Ridge teachers cheered her on at the Olympic Trials this year, and many more former classmates and teachers sent supportive messages, according to the Catholic Standard.
She had returned their support after the London Games, joining her high school swim team and visiting the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters in Bethesda, bringing them brownies and letting them wear her medal, according to Crux.
“I feel that I have very special people in my life and, because of that, I feel very fortunate,” she said.