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Katie Ledecky swims to AP Female Athlete of the Year honors

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Katie Ledecky got her start in swimming because she just wanted to make friends. Her brother was eager to join a team at a pool near their house and as a 6-year-old, she tagged along.

By summer’s end, the Ledecky siblings had made 100 friends ranging in age from 6 to 18. Some of them remain good friends with Katie, who went on to become the world’s best swimmer in the post-Michael Phelps era.

She earned five golds and a silver at this year’s world championships in Budapest, maintaining the upward trajectory she first established as a surprise gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics.

Her dominant performance in Hungary earned Ledecky Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year honors.

In balloting by U.S. editors and news directors announced Tuesday, Ledecky received 351 points, edging out Serena Williams with 343. Williams won the Australian Open for her Open era-record 23rd Grand Slam tennis title. Olympic track star Allyson Felix finished third in voting, with 248 points.

Last year, Ledecky was second to gymnast Simone Biles in the balloting.

The AP Male Athlete of the Year will be announced Wednesday.

MORE: Ledecky earns USOC’s Athlete of the Year honors

Ledecky is the eighth female swimmer to win and the first since Amy Van Dyken in 1996. Among the others is 1969 winner Debbie Meyer. At last year’s Rio de Janeiro Games, Ledecky equaled Meyer’s feat of sweeping the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in a single Olympics.

“It’s a really great history of women swimmers and freestylers,” Ledecky said of the AP honor roll. “I really look up to a lot of those women.”

She is the first active college athlete to win since UConn basketball player Rebecca Lobo in 1995.

Ledecky is a sophomore at Stanford, still debating whether to major in psychology or political science, and enjoying life in the dorms, where she lives with five other swimmers.

“Just being in the college environment has kind of added another layer of fun,” she said. “Being with teammates and working toward NCAA championships and having that team goal, that’s another thing that is fun.”

Ledecky heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for high-altitude training with her Stanford team this week. Her focus is on the collegiate season through the NCAAs in March.

MORE: Rising star says she’s getting closer to Ledecky

In moving cross-country from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, to attend college in California, Ledecky left behind longtime coach Bruce Gemmell. But like some of those old summer league teammates, Ledecky has stayed in touch. She trains with Gemmell when she returns to visit her family.

She was a star to them in 2012 but a little-known 15-year-old to the rest of the world when she won the 800-meter freestyle in world-record time in London.

In 2013, Ledecky won four golds at the worlds in Barcelona, setting a pair of world records. Two years later in Kazan, she swept every freestyle from 200 to 1,500 meters, setting two more world records. Another two world records fell last year in Rio.

In her typically understated way, Ledecky said: “I really pride myself on the consistency I’ve had over the past couple years. Just being able to compete at the international level and come away with some gold medals each year.”

Ledecky didn’t set any personal bests or world records in Budapest, something she’s done with such frequency that people expect to witness something spectacular anytime she dives in the pool.

Her loss in the 200 free in Hungary was considered an upset.

“If they’re disappointed with me not breaking a world record, it’s an honor because it’s representative of what I’ve done in the past and a benchmark for myself,” she said. “I don’t focus on what anyone thinks of my goals or wants to see me do.”

Not yet halfway toward the 2020 Tokyo Games, Ledecky already is thinking ahead. Like Phelps, she never publicly reveals her target times or placements.

“I set big goals for myself and that’s always what has motivated me,” she said.

Despite living in a results-focused world, Ledecky enjoys the journey, something she learned between London and Rio.

“Trying to find those little things to improve on and the process of getting better,” she said. “Doing everything in practice to set yourself up well each year.”

Her sunny smile and friendly demeanor belie the competitor who is always plotting ahead and moving forward ever faster.

“I know the four years goes by very quickly,” Ledecky said, “and I want to do everything I can to prepare.”

MORE: Ledecky, Dressel lead Golden Goggles winners

Paralyzed man walks London Marathon in 36 hours in exoskeleton

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A paralyzed man walked the London Marathon route wearing an exoskeleton suit, finishing around 11 p.m. Monday, nearly 36 hours after he started, according to British media.

Simon Kindleysides was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in April 2013 and was paralyzed from the waist down, he said on the BBC before the race.

“I want to be a role model to my children so they can say their daddy’s been the first paralyzed man to walk the London Marathon ever,” said Kindleysides, a 34-year-old father of three, according to the report.

Kindleysides predicted he would finish in 37 hours, completing the first half of the 26.2-mile race on Sunday, then sleeping a few hours and walking the final 13.1 miles on Monday. Kindleysides said after finishing that he spent 26.5 of those 36 hours walking the marathon.

“Painful, emotional to walk that far in 26.5 hours,” he said. “It feels amazing. So glad I’ve done it. I’m here proving a point, anything is possible.”

Kindleysides said he handcycled from London to Paris for charity two years ago.

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MORE: London Marathon results

Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

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Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again, detailing her reaction to being left off the Rio Olympic team nearly two years ago.

“This is the first time I’ve spoke on this,” Parker said on a podcast published Sunday. “I’m not playing USA Basketball anymore.

“I’m one of those people. Once it’s done, it’s done.”

Parker was surprisingly left off the 12-woman Olympic roster for Rio after being a key player on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal teams.

Asked if the omission was due to politics or an “intentional snub,” Parker detailed her commitment to USA Basketball playing through injuries from before her freshman year at the University of Tennessee through the 2012 Olympics. Plus, taking time away from her daughter to play on an October 2015 European tour one week after her Los Angeles Sparks were eliminated from the WNBA Playoffs.

“If it wasn’t going to be my play that made the final decision [on the Olympic roster]. If it wasn’t going to be my performance on the court, don’t have me do that,” she said of the European tour and Rio Olympic promotions. “It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads-up that you might not make the team, and then I could choose. … I was hurt because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries, given so many hours to USA Basketball, and then in one fell swoop they can just be like, it doesn’t matter about your play, you’re just not on the team.”

Parker’s place on the Rio team was in jeopardy after she missed both the 2014 World Championship (knee injury) and a February 2016 training camp (overseas club commitment), the last camp before the Olympic team would be named, combined with an influx of bigs since the London Games.

“We don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publicly,” USA Basketball director Carol Callan said after the 2016 team was announced. “Needless to say there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. … What it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. … We’re looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that three-four position that is the strength of our team. We appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make.”

Since Rio, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma stepped down (as expected after two Games), and Dawn Staley succeeded him. Auriemma was not on the selection committee for the 2016 Olympic team. Parker said that even if the whole USA Basketball administration changed, she would not be interested in playing for the U.S. again.

“I think Dawn Staley is an amazing coach. She’s awesome. I wish I could have played for her,” Parker said. “It has nothing to do with her, but for me, mentally, I wouldn’t be able to represent USA Basketball anymore.

“I jokingly said [8-year-old daughter] Lailaa was going to get a passport and play for another team, but that’ll be her decision,” Parker said with a laugh. “I can’t put that on her.

“I was more upset about not being able to share the [Olympic] experience with my daughter. That would be the Olympics that she would have remembered.”

Parker was not among 29 players named to the initial U.S. national basketball team player pool for the 2020 Olympic cycle in December. Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020, so the door is not completely shut on anyone.

Callan declined to say whether Parker declined an invitation to the national team.

“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan said in December. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”

Parker said last May, two months after Staley’s hiring, that she didn’t know if she would play for the U.S. again and had not thought about it.

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