(CNS photo/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters) U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky competes in the 800-meter freestyle final during the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 11. Ledecky, who attended Catholic schools in Bethesda, Md., won multiple Olympic gold medals.
(CNS photo/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters) U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky competes in the 800-meter freestyle final during the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 11. Ledecky, who attended Catholic schools in Bethesda, Md., won multiple Olympic gold medals.
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The Associated Press named Katie Ledecky the Female Athlete of the Year on Dec. 26, after balloting by U.S. editors and news directors.

Ledecky, a graduate of Little Flower School and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, received 351 points in the vote, placing her ahead of tennis star Serena Williams, who received 343 points. She was the eighth female swimmer to earn the honor, and the first since Amy Van Dyken in 1996.

The vote reflected Ledecky’s dominance in the July 2017 world championships in Budapest, where she earned five gold medals and one silver medal.

Ledecky first entered the world stage as a 15-year-old in the 2012 London Olympics, the summer after her freshman year at Stone Ridge. In that competition, she surprised people around the world by winning a gold medal in the women’s 800-meter freestyle and finished the race in American-record time. In 2016, she returned to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and won gold in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter freestyle races, gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay, and silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

Ledecky is known for setting lofty goals for herself, and also for achieving them. While many attribute her success to her hard work and grueling workout schedules, in an interview with the Catholic Standard leading up to the 2016 Olympics, Ledecky revealed another part of her pre-race routine.

“I do say a prayer – or two – before any race,” Ledecky said. “The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer, and I find that it calms me.”

Now a sophomore at Stanford University, Ledecky also told the Catholic Standard how her time attending Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington helped make her the person she is today.

“I received an excellent, faith-filled education at both schools (Little Flower and Stone Ridge). Having the opportunity to attend academically rigorous schools has facilitated my interest in the world and in serving others, and has enriched my life so that it is not solely focused on my swimming and athletics,” said Ledecky. “Nevertheless, 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.”

In March 2017, Ledecky became the youngest-ever inductee in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, joining other esteemed women such as Harriet Tubman, Rachel Carson, Clara Barton, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Now, Ledecky is preparing for this coming March, when she will compete in the NCAA championships with her Stanford teammates. This week, she will travel with them to Colorado Springs, Colorado for high-altitude training.

After competing in the 2016 Olympics and before leaving for college, Ledecky visited her alma maters to answer students’ questions and show them the medals that she had earned. During those school visits, Ledecky told the Catholic Standard she prays that she can use her gifts not just to succeed in swimming, but also to make a bigger impact.

“(During the Olympics) I was just praying to do my very best to represent my country, and I always just use my faith to think, ‘I have been given this gift, and I want to use it to the best of my ability… and hopefully inspire somebody or make an impact of some sort beyond just getting a good time (in my race) or getting a gold medal’,” she said.