By Chase McFadden//Contributor | Friday, January 3, 2020
Josh Davis and Missy Franklin — former USA Swimming national team members, world record holders and gold medalists — recently visited the Lander Tiger Sharks in Lander, Wyoming, affording the local age groupers a few hours with a pair of Olympians.
The opportunity for a young athlete to share water and words with an idolized swimmer who has competed at the highest levels of the sport is impactful.
When Davis swam as an age grouper, Matt Biondi was that hero for him.
“He set the American record in the 200 free, and I saw that record with my own eyes in Austin, Texas, at the Olympic Trials in 1988,” Davis explains of Biondi’s influence. “I thought, I want to be like that. I want to swim like that. And maybe one day I can get his American record.
“Sure enough, 12 years later at the Olympic Trials in Indy, I got his record. Matt’s always been an inspiration to me.”
“My favorite swimmer growing up was Natalie Coughlin,” Franklin says. “She was so versatile, and her strokes were so beautiful. I loved watching her race, and I loved that she was a little bit smaller. She wasn’t your average swimmer.
“I loved that she used whatever she had to her advantage. It was kind of the opposite of growing up so tall,” said Franklin of her own stature. “It was something I was really self-conscious of for a while, but to think about using what I had to my advantage the way that Natalie did really helped me come to terms with it.”
If he could have spoken with Biondi at the time, “I would have probably asked him a question about motivation and endurance and perseverance because I’ve learned the answers now,” Davis said, “but at the time I didn’t realize it was going to take me until I was 28 years old to get that record.
“I would have asked him, ‘How do you stay motivated, how do you stay content,’ some perspective questions. And Matt Biondi had a great perspective. He was all about the love of the technique, love of the journey, love of the water, loving the sport. I really appreciated that about him.”
Franklin would have pressed into Coughlin’s passion for the pool had the two met when she was younger. She was later a teammate of Coughlin’s on the 2011 and 2013 U.S. World Championships Team and on the 2012 Olympic Team.
“I would have asked Natalie what she loved most about swimming. I love hearing what other people love about it. I think it’s so inspiring — especially from people who have competed at all levels — to hear what their favorite thing about the sport is and what they love most about it. It never gets old hearing their answers and what they have to say because they’re so often the most incredible, thoughtful, meaningful answers and are amazing to listen to.”
And how does Davis himself respond to that potential query to Biondi now, having achieved success at the highest levels just as his role model did?
“The secret to perseverance I learned is gratitude and serving others,” he says. “What I tell people now is have that attitude of gratitude, always be thankful. Serving others is a huge little secret to finding contentment. I’d have so many off days as a swimmer, but when I’d cheer others, serve others, be excited for them, it actually got me ‘off my offness’ quicker.”
“My favorite thing about the sport is the people,” Franklin offers as a reply to her question for Coughlin.
“Today, I had so many young girls come up and ask me what my times were when I was 10 and 12, and I couldn’t tell you what my times were when I was 17, except for one!” Franklin says.
“There’s going to be a time for everyone when swimming ends. No one does it forever,” she continues. “When you look back, it’s the people that stay in your life for the rest of your life. Swimming has brought me the most incredible people who have made me into the woman that I am today.
“That’s what I love most about the sport. How it shaped me, the people it surrounded me with, and how it has made me the person that I wanted to be.”