Franklin keeps fire going outside pool

While Missy Franklin retired prematurely last December owing to injury, she wants to make an impact elsewhere.
While Missy Franklin retired prematurely last December owing to injury, she wants to make an impact elsewhere.

ATLANTA • Missy Franklin can still light up a room.

She will start off with that big, broad smile. Then comes the bubbly laugh, summoned from deep in the belly.

Finally, there's a boundless, almost child-like passion for whatever is on her mind.

"The thing that people always ask me about her, after they first meet Missy and she's so nice, they wonder, 'Is she like that all the time'?" said Jack Bauerle, her former coach. "Yes, that's what she's like all the time."

Even now, when she has every reason to be bitter about a broken-down body that snuffed out her brilliant swimming career, Franklin still glides easily to the sunny side to life.

"One of the hardest things about retirement is having a lot of people ask - and I know they don't always mean it negatively - but there's this connotation of, 'What are you going to do now'?" the American told The Associated Press recently.

"People are assuming that I've already peaked."

She wants everyone to know that's not the case. At 24, the five-gold Olympic champion feels like she is just getting started.

"I can really make an impact outside the pool," said Franklin. "That is one of the coolest things."

For sure, her swimming peak was a sight to behold. As a 17-year-old, she turned in one of the greatest performances in Olympic history at the 2012 London Games, capturing four golds as well as a bronze.

The following summer, Franklin was even better. At the world championships in Barcelona, she became the first female swimmer to win six golds and it seemed like she was the female version of Michael Phelps.

But her body would not let her fully realise her potential.

After a dismal showing at the 2016 Rio Games, where she qualified in just two events and won her only medal - a gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay - she had surgery on both shoulders.

Unfortunately, her shoulders continued to hurt and when doctors told her she could undergo another surgery but there was a less than 50 per cent chance it would relieve her pain in the pool, Franklin decided to retire.

Just from swimming, though, and not from life. In September, she married another former swimmer, Hayes Johnson and last Monday, she finished her final class at the University of Georgia, earning a degree in religion.

"I would've loved to keep going as a swimmer," she said. "But I know I made the right decision."

She is convinced that her best is yet to come, even if she does not have the same sort of audience that she did in an Olympic pool.

Next summer, Franklin will attend the Tokyo Games to work with sponsors and spread a message about protecting the environment and dealing with climate change.

She is not quite clear where life is going to take her, but it is clear that she wants to stay involved with swimming - especially if it gives her a chance to work with young people. She said: "Now I have to show up and be that person I always said I wanted to be in a situation like this."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2019, with the headline 'Franklin keeps fire going outside pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe