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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Olympian Who Achieved the Impossible

                With the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio, I can’t help but look back on my favorite moment from the 2012 games in London. It involved Katie Ledecky, who is now a star in the world of competitive swimming and expected to win a number of gold medals. But 2012 brought her first one, and it was completely unexpected.

                Ledecky, age 15 at the time, was the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team, and she was set to swim the women’s 800-meter freestyle, a grueling race that required her to cross the length of the 50-meter pool 16 times. In addition, she was a young woman whose humility was acknowledged by her classmates and teachers at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland—a teen who prayed the Hail Mary before each race and enjoyed going to Mass every week because it gave her the “chance to reflect and connect with God,” as Maureen Boyle reported in the Catholic Standard newspaper.

There was also the simple fact that Ledecky was pursuing her own dreams partially because of the inspiration given to her by past and present champions. When she was six, she approached Michael Phelps for an autograph after his practice session at the University of Maryland. This was prior to the 2004 Olympics, before the entire world got to know who Phelps was. Now here was Ledecky, on the U.S. team with one of her idols who had just won gold again prior to her race. And the other breakout star of those Olympics, Missy Franklin, had also just won gold again. Instead of feeling nervous, Ledecky said she felt “pumped.”

Prior to the race, I didn’t get the impression that NBC announcers Rowdy Gaines or Dan Hicks (or anybody really) expected Ledecky to win. Gold seemed more likely for British swimmer Rebecca Adlington, a four-time Olympian and British legend. But Ledecky took off like a cannonball at the start of the race and never quit. Gaines and Hicks thought she was going too fast initially, that she’d expend too much energy in the early laps and dwindle by the end. Ledecky, however, was apparently too young or inexperienced to know how these things are supposed to go. She was in a race and she was going all out to win.

By the time Ledecky finished the 800 meters, the race wasn’t even close. She was way ahead of everyone, even the more experienced swimmers who were expected to win. In a sincere gesture of class, Rebecca Adlington, who wound up earning the bronze medal, told Ledecky she was “amazing.” And what else could you call her? 

This wasn’t an expected result. I’m sure Ledecky wanted to win, but she likely never expected this to happen. In her post-race interview with Andrea Joyce, the teen explained that she tried to block out much of what was going on around her during the race. From my perspective, she looked stunned at what had happened. Finally, in the medal ceremony, this hard-working, prayerful 15-year-old looked humbled and emotionally overwhelmed—overwhelmed in a good way, an appreciative way.

It was a great ending to an outstanding night for a teenager whose faith asserts a lot of things many people claim are impossible. And yet here was Ledecky reminding us all that the media and experts can’t always predict what will happen when people who don’t know they can’t achieve the impossible are led by faith and heart to achieve it anyway.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, HOW SPORTS CAN HELP YOU WIN AT LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org