Above, Katie Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda this fall and is a graduate of Little Flower School, also in Bethesda, will compete in the 800-meter freestyle swimming race in the London Olympics this summer. Below, Ledecky is seen in her official Olympics portrait.
Above, Katie Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda this fall and is a graduate of Little Flower School, also in Bethesda, will compete in the 800-meter freestyle swimming race in the London Olympics this summer. Below, Ledecky is seen in her official Olympics portrait.
When 15-year-old swimming phenom Katie Ledecky slices through the water during the 800-meter freestyle race at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, she may not be able to hear the roaring cheers of her adoring fans back home in the Archdiocese of Washington, but she's convinced they'll be with her in spirit.

"Everybody has been so great this year. During this whole experience, I realize more than ever that I have the best community," said Ledecky, a rising sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda.

Ledecky said that qualifying for the Olympics seemed so "far-fetched" just one year ago. But anyone watching her swim at the July 1 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., would never have believed it for a millisecond. Ledecky won the 800-meter freestyle event, touching the wall at a record-setting time of 8 minutes 19.78 seconds and breaking the trials record of Olympian Katie Hoff set in 2008. Also at trials, Ledecky broke famed Olympic swimmer Janet Evans' age group record in the 400 free, but came in third, one spot shy of making the Olympic team for another individual event.

Years of waking up hours before dawn for swim practice with the Curl-Burke Swim Club in Bethesda, being a member of the Stone Ridge Gators swim team and almost 10 summers on the Palisade Porpoises, her community pool swim team, have brought Ledecky to this moment. Not only is Ledecky the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team, it was recently announced that she's officially the youngest athlete on the entire 530-member U.S. Olympic team.

Ledecky, who has been swimming competitively since the age of 6, describes the incredible journey to her sport's highest pinnacle at such a young age as a dream, and she's not yet awakened. "This is all sort of surreal," she said.

The day before leaving for Knoxville, Tenn., where the U.S. swim team is training prior to London, Ledecky is like any normal teenager getting ready for a big trip - last minute packing, getting her bangs cut and spending precious time with family and friends.

In between, she takes time out to speak with the Catholic Standard about her life, family, school, swimming and her strong Catholic faith, which she says keeps her focused on God and what matters most in life.

"I always pray right before a race. The prayer I say is the Hail Mary," said Ledecky, adding that her faith and the sacraments give her a welcome opportunity to pause in her busy routine. "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."

Ledecky said she has always loved St. Anne, the Blessed Mother's mother, whose name she chose for her Confirmation. And since her birthday is March 17, she said she has a special devotion to St. Patrick.

She and her family are longtime parishioners of the Church of the Little Flower, Bethesda.

She also credits the example of men and women religious she's known throughout her life. The sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who taught her at Little Flower School in Bethesda, where she attended from pre-K through eighth grade, she said, were "great role models and were a big part of my faith growing up."

Her godfather, Jesuit Father Jim Shea, the Maryland provincial of the Jesuits, is a close family friend and another big supporter of Ledecky's. "He's always been there for me and always saying he will pray for me," she said.

Although Ledecky doesn't have much time for many extra-curricular activities, she is proud of her service on the Stone Ridge Campus Ministry Board, which helps plan school Masses, service projects and builds up the Catholic faith in the school community. "It's been great. I love being able to do that," she said.

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

It was watching her big brother, who later swam competitively for Gonzaga, swim when they were youngsters, that inspired her to take up the sport, she said.

She decided to stick with it, becoming 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.

Some of Ledecky's 2011-2012 records include: breaking six Stone Ridge swimming team records; breaking six Stone Ridge Pool Records; breaking the ISL (Independent School League) meet records in the 200 and 500 free; making the ISL All League; making the WMPSSDL (Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving League) All League; making All Met 1st team; named a High School All American in the 200 free (8th place) and 500 free (3rd place); breaking the National Age Group records in the 400 free and 800 free at the USA Olympic Trials; and breaking the USA Olympic Trials record in the 800 free. Ledecky has the second fastest 800 free time this year and the 12th fastest 800 free of all time.

Her former Little Flower principal, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rosemaron Rynn, said the school community is rooting for Ledecky 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," Sister Rosemaron said. "We just wish her the best, and everyone here is cheering her on."

Stone Ridge is another of Ledecky's tight-knit communities that is especially proud of one of its own. The school's website lists all 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, Stone Ridge's athletic director. "She's a regular, sweet kid, and the true definition of a student athlete."

When he first met Ledecky as an incoming freshman, Bryant said he was immediately struck by her humility. "Sometimes when you meet an athlete who is that good, they want you to know it. Not Katie. She is a person who is about who she is, not about what she can do," he said.

Even though swimming occupies much of her time, Ledecky said her education is her primary focus. "I have to be very disciplined in doing my school work every night when I get home from practice, so I can still get enough sleep," she said, adding that for fun she enjoys just being with her family, reading, practicing piano or occasionally going out to a movie. And although, she's probably one of very few 15-year-olds with their own Facebook fan page (set up by her brother), she spends zero time on the social networks.

As she prepares to head over to London, Ledecky said she looks forward to marching in the Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 27, and maybe a little sightseeing after her event, which begins on Aug. 2. She also said she is a little awe-struck to be training with the swimmers she's looked up to and followed since she was a little girl.

"It's a thrill for me to be on the team and to represent the United States for the first time in a swim meet. The team's swimmers all seem to be great individuals. The local swimmers from our area, Kate Ziegler (who attended Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington) and Matt McLean, have been especially nice though," she said.

When asked about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ledecky answers with a cautious, "We'll see." Right now, she's singularly focused on the 800-meter free in London and is filled with gratitude for those who've stood by her along the way to bring her this far.

"I couldn't have done any of this without everyone's support - 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 said.