Sisters, Catholic faith support Olympians

Posted by Anne Marie O'Kelley
Thursday 15, July 2021 | Category:   Catholic culture
Simone Biles
Simone Biles references her Catholic faith repeatedly in her autobiography Courage to Soar. (Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias, wikimedia)

Gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky both say an important source of strength in their lives is their Catholic faith. For Ledecky, who attended a Catholic school run by the Sacred Heart (R.S.C.J.) Sisters, support also comes in the form of the sisters from her high school who have cheered her on. Both Biles and Ledecky won four gold medals apiece at the 2016 Olympics and both qualified for the 2021 Olympics in Japan.

Biles has noted that she carries a rosary in her gym bag: “My mom, Nellie, got me a rosary at church,” she told Us magazine. “I don’t use it to pray before a competition. I’ll just pray normally to myself, but it’s there just in case.”

Swimming Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky (center) receives an award at an international competition.
Swimming Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky (center) receives an award at an international competition. During her sports career, she has enjoyed a warm relationship with the sisters who educated her at a high school run by the R.S.C.J. sisters. (Photo: Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro), Wikimedia)

Likewise, Ledecky told journalists that her faith was a mainstay in her life and that she likes to pray a Hail Mary prior to competitions: “I do say a prayer—or two—before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me,” Ledecky told The Catholic Standard.

In her autobiography, Courage to Soar, Biles noted many Catholic milestones in her upbringing. For instance, she wrote about her Confirmation day: “I marched into St. James the Apostle Church that Sunday in a line of teenagers with solemn faces . . . in a way, our procession reminded me of a medal ceremony, except that no gold, silver, and bronze medals would be given out. Instead, our prize would be something much more powerful: in a few moments, each of us would bow our heads to receive the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation.”

In drawing upon their faith and the support of Catholic sisters, Ledecky and Biles are continuing a tradition familiar to many Catholic athletes: turning to God and community for strength, courage, and perspective.

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