Three Olympians Share Their Catholic Faith

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, 
and all your mind 
~Matthew 22:37 

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The Rio Olympics come to a close this Sunday. Two of the gold medal winning and best-known Olympians along with a third member of the U.S. Team, made news not only for their athletic accomplishments, but also because of their Catholic Faith. They are swimming sensation, Katie Ledecky, gymnast extraordinaire, Simone Biles, and modest fencer, Katharine Holmes. The following is an edited stitching together of three articles on these young women, from, and the Catholic Standard. Note that they were all written prior to the conclusion of the Games.

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Katie Ledecky: Swimming

Four years ago, Katie Ledecky burst onto the Olympic stage when she was just 15 years old, winning a gold medal in the women’s 800-meter freestyle. Since then, the swimmer who attended Little Flower School and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda has become the world record holder in the 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyles, and the American record holder in the 500, 1000 and 1650-yard freestyles. In 2015, she became the first swimmer in history to win the 200, 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyles in a single world championship. During the Olympic trials, Ledecky qualified to compete in three individual events at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – the 200, 400, and 800-meter freestyles. In the following interview with the Catholic Standard, Ledecky discusses how her faith is a source of strength and how the communities at home have supported her along the road to her second Olympics.

Ledecky photoHow has what you learned in Catholic schools helped you in your swimming career?

“I attended Catholic schools from pre-K through high school. I attended Little Flower School in Bethesda through 8th grade and then Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart for high school. I received an excellent, faith-filled education at both schools. 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. 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 practices, meets and sports.

“Going to these schools allowed me to make wonderful friends. Friends, teachers and administrators 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, one that I hope will help me in college and beyond.”  

How has the support of the Stone Ridge and Little Flower communities helped you during your preparations for the Olympics?

“As I have already mentioned, that support has been invaluable to me in meeting my educational goals, my swimming goals and in preparing for the Rio Olympics. I have friends from high school who always send me messages when I am swimming in international competitions. That support means a lot to me. Mrs. Karrels, Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. McCluskey from Stone Ridge attended Olympic Trials this year, along with other Stone Ridge families and my own family. It was a lot of fun having them there, and it meant so much to me that they would fly to Omaha to cheer for me. My godfather, Father Jim Shea, S.J., also flew to Omaha (from Charlotte) to support me. Both Sister Rosemaron and Msgr. Vaghi from Little Flower sent me messages when I was in Omaha. My high school swim team coach Bob Walker was in attendance, coaching other athletes. It was great he was there. I have very special people in my life and, because of that, I feel very fortunate.

Ledecky photo How do you rely on your Catholic faith to sustain you through your training and racing?

“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. It helps me put things in perspective.” 

Do you still say a “Hail Mary” before each race? How did you decide upon it as your go-to prayer?  

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

Simone Biles: Gymnastics

Biles photoSimone Biles ….Her routines are nearly flawless and everyone has been in awe of her amazing skill and collected demeanor, barely flinching under the immense pressure of the judges. What is it that drives her to be the best? To answer that question, Us magazine recently asked Biles to empty her gymnastics bag in hopes of finding the secret formula to her amazing success. While most of the contents of her bag were no surprise, the reporter noticed a white rosary that fell out. Biles explained, “My mom, Nellie, got me a rosary at church. I don’t use it to pray before a competition. I’ll just pray normally to myself, but I have it there in case.”  Faith has been one of the only constants in her rather difficult life. 

Biles photoBiles was born in Ohio to a mother who was battling drug and alcohol abuse and at the age of three she was taken away from her mother. A social worker called her grandparents in Texas who willingly took her in and eventually adopted Biles and her younger sister, “Go ahead and send the kids to us…I didn’t want them to be raised by a stranger.” Biles now calls her grandparents “mom and dad,” and regularly attends Sunday Mass with them. They have been a big influence in her life and have supported her from the very beginning.

Katharine Holmes, Fencing

Holmes photoKatharine “Kat” Holmes, grew up attending the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament parish in Washington and is one of the four women on the US Epee Fencing Team in Rio. She is studying neuroscience at Princeton, but has taken two years off to train for her first Olympic games in Rio. She will return in the fall to complete her senior year,

What motivates you to train so hard?

“When I was a kid, I trained hard because I loved to fence. To me it was simply doing what I loved.  I saw how working hard got me better and better results and realized that hard work was the key to success.  I still love fencing and, mostly training is not a chore, but that thought and the knowledge that running that extra mile might bring me one inch closer to the Olympic gold is a huge motivator.”

How have the communities at Annunciation and Blessed Sacrament supported you in fencing, or in your life? While I have not lived in D.C. for six years, I have carried my faith with me throughout my training and travels. The great thing about being Catholic is that all Catholics are your family. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in D.C., Princeton, or even Qatar, I have always been able to find members of my family to turn to in times of both need and joy.

How does your Catholic faith help sustain you?

Homes photo

While qualifying for the Olympics, I had an almost ongoing conversation with God, constantly asking for reassurance and strength that I could do it, that I could keep going. When things were really getting rough, I remembered a line from ‘Chariots of Fire’ in which, when talking about running, Eric Liddell said, ‘God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.’ This is largely how I feel about fencing. God gave me such a gift through this sport, and in following my dreams, I feel as if I am living the life He wished for me, utilizing all that He blessed me with.


Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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