By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, February 15, 2018
If you’re a Missy Franklin fan – and it’s difficult not to be – you know the past couple of years in and out of the pool have been tough ones for the five-time Olympic champion.
Even before she returned from Rio in 2016 with a single relay gold – a far cry from the five medals (four gold) she won in 2012 at the London Games – she knew something wasn’t right with her body, and it slowly started to creep into her always positive outlook.
But being the champion that she is, she persevered.
Now she’s ready to leave those darker times in the past, reflect on all that is good in her life and push forward in and out of the water to achieve what’s most important to her – now that she really knows what that is.
“My spirit never wavered even when I was having some pretty tough times in the water,” she said. “I always worked very hard to maintain my positive attitude. I’m incredibly blessed and have so many wonderful people.
“I had to focus on things that were going right in my life and not the things that weren’t. That definitely helped me through it all.”
Eventually, she faced the prospect that what was ailing her – stiffness and lack of natural mobility in both shoulders, bad circumstances for one of the best backstrokers in the world – wasn’t going to fix itself or go away.
She needed to look at what was happening straight-on, and when she did, she briefly saw the end of her swimming career before getting a much broader glimpse of what she could still accomplish in the water.
“When things are going well, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always easy getting there, and the same can be said about tough times,” Franklin said. “It’s been a tough year and a half and even before that, but now that I’ve gone through it, I feel I have a much different – better – perspective about life and swimming. I find so much joy and optimism in both.”
Along with shoulder surgery (both shoulders) last year, Franklin, who took the summer off from competition to heal and rehab, recently made some rather significant changes in her life and swimming.
She uprooted her life, education and training from Berkeley, Calif., at the beginning of this year to move to Athens, Ga., to attend the University of Georgia and train under longtime Georgia Head Coach Jack Bauerle.
Franklin said it was her history, familiarity and comfortability with Bauerle – who was the head coach on her first international team when she was 13 – and the Psychology degree program at Georgia that led her to Athens.
“I loved working with Dave (Durden) and the post-collegiate swimmers at Cal, but I felt like this was a strategically positive move for me personally and professionally,” she said. “Dave was a true guardian angel to me, but I felt like I needed to put myself in a better place.
“The change in scenery has been really great for me in and out of the water. I’m loving my classes, my training partners, and I really feel that I’m surrounded by people who are helping me get where I need to be.”
Franklin added that in the process of making such substantial changes in her life, she’s rediscovering many of the fundamental things that she’s always loved about swimming.
Having that time way from swimming and being able to disassociate herself from the pressure of making the next team proved remarkably therapeutic for Franklin.
Now, feeling healthy again and with a recharged mindset about where swimming ranks in her life, she said she’s excited for the upcoming competitive season.
“I’m not feeling the pressure that I felt after 2012 and 2013, and it’s been great for me to have that time away for physical and emotional reasons,” she said. “Studying psychology has given me some insights into myself that have really helped me figure out things – what’s important to me in my life.
“Swimming is and will always be important to me, but I’ve come to the realization that there are many important things in my life outside of swimming. Maintaining that balance is equally important.”
While she hasn’t competed since the Rio Olympics, Franklin said Bauerle and she are working on a schedule to get her race-ready for Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this summer.
And having grown up in swimming – heralded as the next great American female swimmer as a 13 year-old and later branded as the Female Phelps after her accomplishments in London in 2012 and a year later at Worlds – Franklin said it’s been her return to the basics of the sport that have renewed her love and passion for swimming.
“In my darkest times after Rio, it felt like I had fallen down a well trying desperately to climb out,” she said. “I’d get halfway up – feeling good about swimming and my health – and then fall back down again. It was very hard on me, but I always stayed positive because I knew I would come through it eventually.
“Now, I feel like I’m on the others side – out of the well – and I’m feeling strong and good again. I wanted to get back to that 17-year-old who truly loved the sport, and I feel like I get closer and closer to that every time I jump in the pool. It’s less about the hardware I bring back and more about getting back there and showing people the Missy that has always been so happy.”
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