Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky competes in her final event at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart’s home pool on Jan. 10, in the 400-yard freestyle relay race. The member of Stone Ridge’s class of 2015 will graduate this spring. (CS photo Michael Hoyt)
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky competes in her final event at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart’s home pool on Jan. 10, in the 400-yard freestyle relay race. The member of Stone Ridge’s class of 2015 will graduate this spring. (CS photo Michael Hoyt)

Katie Ledecky – who won the gold medal in the 800-meter women’s freestyle swimming race in the 2012 London Summer Olympics as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympics Team at the age of 15 – had another golden moment on Jan. 10, as she joined five fellow seniors at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda in celebrating their final home swimming meet at the Stone Ridge Aquatics Center.

Before the swim meet, Stone Ridge’s senior members of the school’s Swim and Dive Team were recognized and posed for photos with their parents and school administrators and with the school’s Gator mascot. The Stone Ridge senior swimmers include Ledecky, Colleen Carey, Celia Wilson, Francesa Dahut, Emily Deale, and Anna Kiyonaga. The team’s senior co-captains are Ledecky, Carey and Deale.

At the meet, Ledecky swam in her final event at Stone Ridge’s home pool, anchoring her school’s 400-yard freestyle relay team, which finished in second place. During the meet, which included swimmers and divers from Stone Ridge, Potomac School, Bullis School, Georgetown Day School and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Ledecky finished first in the women’s 50-yard freestyle race and first in the women’s 100-yard breaststroke race. Ledecky also swam in the women’s 200-yard medley relay race for the Stone Ridge team, which finished in second in that event.

During the competition, Ledecky joined teammates in cheering for the Stone Ridge swimmers, and after the final race at the event, some teammates playfully pushed Ledecky into the pool. Beforehand, she joined teammates in warm-ups, jumping in the pool and swimming practice laps before the meet. Before and after the meet, she greeted and posed for photos with young admirers.

“What I admire most (about Katie), is she has stayed 100 percent a normal student,” said Catherine Ronan Karrels, Stone Ridge’s Head of School. The school administrator said Ledecky lives out the five goals of a Sacred Heart education – faith, intellect, community, service and personal growth. “She’s just a living embodiment of how those goals can make a person a champion,” Karrels said.

Ledecky has left her mark at the Stone Ridge Aquatics Center, literally, as an autographed swim magazine depicting her as the athlete of the year, and an autographed swim cap, is displayed across from the center’s front desk. On a wall behind the pool’s starting blocks and diving board, the Stone Ridge School swimming and diving records are displayed, with Ledecky’s name listed 18 times, for top marks in the 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle, 200 IM, 50 freestyle, 100 fly, 100 freestyle, 500 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay.

Robert Walker, Stone Ridge’s head varsity swimming coach, called Ledecky “the perfect teammate…She cares about everyone else before herself.” He said he hopes that Stone Ridge’s swimmers and divers graduate with a desire to continue achieving all their goals, and keep the friendships they maintained as teammates.

Praising Ledecky’s hard work and drive, Walker noted, “She’s the first one here, and the last to leave, the first in the water, setting an example without saying anything.”

Malcolm McCluskey, the assistant head of Stone Ridge’s upper school, praised Ledecky as a young woman who is grounded in her Catholic faith, who balances all the aspects of her life as a student and athlete. “She just does everything to the best of her ability. She’s giving, caring, humble and supportive. She just pours herself into everything.”

McCluskey, who has Ledecky as one of his students in the Catholic social teaching and social justice class that he teaches, said she is a thoughtful and reflective young woman, who joins in class discussions on topics like the importance of having solidarity with the poor. Like all Stone Ridge students, she participates in community service projects serving those in need as part of the school’s social action program. This year, she also serves as the co-leader of the school’s campus ministry program, helping plan school liturgies, retreats and prayer services.

“She has a deep faith. I think it’s one of the things that helps balance her, and she lives it,” McCluskey said. “All of her service work she does is authentic. It’s her putting her faith in action.”

After she leapt into the pool for each of her races, Ledecky surged through the water with powerful, rhythmic strokes, reflecting her countless hours of practice and training, that last year helped her set new world records in the 1,500-meter women’s freestyle and in the 800-meter women’s freestyle events. She continues her rigorous training in preparation for qualifying to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and after graduating from Stone Ridge in 2015, she has made a commitment to swim for Stanford University.

Jason McGhee, Stone Ridge’s athletic director, said Ledecky is “the same person as she is an athlete. How graceful she is when she competes, is how graceful she is as a person.”

The Stone Ridge A.D. said the Olympic athlete sets goals, and “has the passion, desire and commitment to follow through.” He added, “She’s very blessed physically, but that’s never enough. What makes her special is what she has inside.”

After her last meet, Ledecky reflected on the special bonds that she has made with her Stone Ridge swimming and diving teammates. “These are friends I’ll have for the rest of my life,” she said.

During her years swimming for Stone Ridge, Ledecky has led her team to the Independent School League championship, earned High School All-American honors and been named the Washington Post’s All-Met Swimmer of the Year.  Ledecky still has the swim cap given to her on her shadow visit to Stone Ridge as an eighth grader, which remains a symbol of the team’s spirit of welcome and support that has characterized her four years there.

When asked what she has gained from her Catholic education, first from her parish elementary school, Little Flower in Bethesda, and in high school at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, Ledecky said, “First and foremost, my faith has really been my strength over these past 14 years. My faith will always be central in my life.”

During her years at Stone Ridge, Ledecky has volunteered serving meals to the homeless at soup kitchens, visiting the elderly at senior residences, and has worked with children and with people with disabilities. In recent years, she has volunteered with a program called Bikes for the World, which collects bicycles for children and adults in developing countries.

As she has for the past 10 years, Ledecky said she says a prayer before every swimming race. Now as she waits to step up to and then leap from the starting block, Ledecky joked that she’s “probably up to a decade of the rosary” before each race.

But it’s not just the Hail Marys that power Ledecky to victory. She practices about eight to nine times in the pool every week, with two hours at each session, and she also has two to three dry-land training exercise sessions, each about one-hour long.

“The special thing about swimming, is you can see how the work you put into practice pays off in meets,” said Ledecky.

Now after touching the wall for Stone Ridge’s swim team for the past four years, Ledecky continues to train hard, hoping to do the same in Rio de Janeiro next summer.