By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
She left the sport to start the rest of her life, but Micha Shaw, the Cal All-American and World Championship competitor for the U.S., was smiling earlier this week when her Golden Bears got the Golden Girl, Missy Franklin, to commit to joining the squad in Berkeley. Micha also has a special connection to swim fans today more than any other: The long-time close friend of Fran Crippen, who was his open water teammate and traveling partner for the last quad up to his death two years ago today, talks about her inspirational hero, and more, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. We will talk about Fran at length in a moment – thanks for getting up at 6 a.m. to call me today, it means a lot – but tell me how your friend Natalie Coughlin is doing? Wasn’t she amazing in the Call Me Maybe video, and doesn’t she have a future in theater?
Micha: I definitely think she has a talent we will see more of. I don’t know about theatre (laughs), but the girl can dance, and she’s a pretty good choreographer.
2. Didn’t you and Natalie get some workout time when she was down there earlier this month? Is the athletic vacation the way to go?
Micha: I have not done many athletic vacations but I am planning a few. Natalie did come down a few weeks ago and spent the day with me. We had plans to be adventurous and athletic and it kind of didn’t (laughs) all work out that way. But I took her to her first yoga class (Micha is now an instructor) and that was fun. We tried to go to the beach and get in the water, but it was horrible conditions, so we played on the sand with my son (Zane).
3. Wasn’t hanging out with Fran great for developing your perspective as a parent? Hasn’t motherhood come really natural to you?
Micha: Surprisingly, yes (laughs). Fran was a good lesson I guess on how it would be like having a really close brother. To your question about it coming natural to me: If you ask even my sister, who lives in London and came to visit, she was surprised how natural I guess motherhood has been for me. I wasn’t that great with kids (laughs) before I became a mom!
4. And yet you are down below your competition weight and wrapped in muscle – how does that even happen? Don’t you watch TV?
Micha: Thanks (laughs). I don’ t know, something about chasing a baby around and staying busy has kept me in shape – that and exercising. I still feel like I am not in that good of shape. I don’t have the muscle that I had before I was pregnant, certainly not like I did when I was swimming.
5. How about Cal getting Missy?
Micha: Yeah, that’s really exciting! It’s a tribute to Teri (McKeever) and all the work she has done.
6. I saw a comment on a story about that and it said that Missy’s comparatively conservative Colorado roots will be upset in Berkeley – my experience living there was just the opposite: I found it an intellectual and cultural center, and if anything I was more educated about liberalism and conservatism than anything else when I left – am I off base on this one?
Micha: I always laugh when people say that to me because Orange County (where Micha lives now)is very conservative by California standards. When I tell people I went to Berkeley, they dismiss me as a crazy hippie. How could it be one of the best schools in the world if they were only teaching liberal propaganda? At any university, you will find your niche. Hopefully, people take time and seize the opportunity to learn why others are the way they are, and about what they believe. There is so much there, and I miss it every day.
7. So do you think Cal’s domination at NCAAs will continue?
Micha: It really is impressive what they have done. You know, I’m not really part of the swimming conversation anymore, but I knew Missy Franklin signed and that Cal is dominating in swimming – but that (laughs) is where it ends for me. I am proud of Teri and proud of Cal.
8. Your husband seems so cool and supportive – such a good dad, too – how great was it to have that man when you left FAST and retired?
Micha: I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband and my family around me is very supportive. My experience at FAST was challenging (laughs); it wasn’t what I wanted it to be in terms of results. But I can’t have any regrets. When I deciding my time was over, I walked away with 100 percent confidence, and I never thought that I shouldn’t have left. I did meet amazing people swimming there. But it’s not a decision that I regret making.
9. Is Nathan Adrian from Cal as genuine and fun as he seems?
Micha: I’ve met Nathan a couple of times, and he really does seem to be one of the nicest people around – and a great swimmer.
10. So I bet Zane is in the water now?
Micha: Yes, I started standup paddling so I am going to do a couple of races. I brought Zane. He has a little life jacket. No pressure from me – if he wants to be a swimmer, he can do that and that’d be great, but we will support him in whatever he wants to do.
11. Okay, well, today marks the passing of Fran – two years – yet no one can forget him, can they?
Micha: They definitely can’t. I think that’s a testament to all the people who remember him and want to talk about him, and his impact on the swim community. He was such a big person, and so charismatic.
12. How good was he to hang out with?
Micha: We definitely had some good times. Mostly, it was just us traveling and having fun, and eating (laughs) suspect food!
13. How much of his success was toughness?
Micha: I think a great part of it. He was a really hard worker, too. Like most athletes, he had days where he struggled, but the difference is that he kept coming day after day, and he always gave 100 percent. You always knew you were getting a full effort from him.
14. Does it warm your heart to see the comments on Facebook?
Micha: It really does. You know, Facebook drives me crazy sometimes, but it’s a nice way to reach out and connect. Reading all the comments lately of how Fran connected with people, or how he motivated and inspired them, is just great. There are a lot of stories out there like the one with Fran and Alex (Meyer, where Fran went back in his race to encourage Alex). Fran was such a big personality. Everyone wanted to be his friend. I used to laugh because people who he didn’t even really like still wanted to be his friend.
15. Will you be at Golden Goggles this year – speaking of Fran road trips?
Micha: I have gone almost every year. I’ve been the professional (laughs) date. This year, no one (laughs) has called.
16. Fran could work a crowd, couldn’t he?
Micha: I think it came naturally. I definitely think he was a great ambassador for the sport. When I would travel with him on the World Cup tour – you have to understand, I can be shy and awkward, but not Fran; he could introduce himself to anybody and talk about anything. He made friends from all over the world. In turn, I got to make friends. You were at ease around him. It made it fun and more adventurous when he was around.
17. When Fran kind of retired after 2008 – was that a tough time for him?
Micha: I don’t think Fran really ever left. That time (after 2008) was very challenging for both of us. We didn’t make the (Olympic) team. Fran would call me up and tell me to get in the water and train for Nationals, and that we would keep on going. I decided I wanted to wallow, but Fran made a smart choice and decided to stay with it. He was adamant. I know he had a rough couple of months, but he never retired. His focus was on moving forward. And I think that’s what is so impressive, that he took a very frustrating year and he came back and was better than ever. After 2008, he was unstoppable. Something clicked for him mentally. Physically, he was there, and he had the talent. But mentally, he got even tougher – if that’s even possible – and he was on a mission to be an Olympian.
18. Wasn’t seeing him race in open water breathtaking?
Micha: It was really impressive. One of the last times I saw Fran race, we were in Argentina. I got really sick and I didn’t finish the race. I was just sitting on the side feeling sorry for myself. Here comes Fran, he wins the race, and I just burst into tears – I was so happy for him. He was so confident. I knew he had really grown in the last couple of years. He could be a fierce competitor in the water, but the moment the race was over he could slap you on the back and tell a joke.
19. Even those he had just beaten?
Micha: Absolutely. Those races can be aggressive – the open water races are like that – but after maybe a few awkward moments after the race, they would feel good about it from being around Fran. He was just a great guy.
20. As usual, I was wimping out last night – I couldn’t even finish reading Arthur Frayler’s Facebook tribute to him, I was so moved – so I decided to talk to you at dawn today. Tell me, how do you get through today?
Micha: First off, I am (laughs) a wimp, too. I have had a really hard time following everything online because of the emotion. You know, every time you ask me a swimming question I get nervous because I don’t follow what’s really going on in the swimming world anymore. I do have Natalie to talk to, and I am always interested in keeping up with her, and talking to her. But I didn’t even watch open water at the Olympics in 2012 – I just couldn’t do it. This time, I knew Fran would be there. So no, it never gets easier. And I think you and I have talked about this before, but I hope it never gets easier, because every year around this time especially I want people to think about Fran and how much they love him. Life is short, and nothing is for certain. That’s why you go for it, why you don’t quit, and why you give it everything you can – like Fran did. And it really has been wonderful to see how people have incorporated Fran into their lives, whether he’s motivating them in swimming or in life. I hope everyone keeps remembering him. I don’t know how today’s going to go. I thought I was strong, and then last night I was sad. We all have to keep living our lives – and bringing Fran with us. He’d be smiling, so we should be smiling now, too.