The Buzz: Missy Franklin's Last Hurrah
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
A famous swim coach was once honored with what was a “lifetime achievement award.” This coach was responsible for training, molding, and formulating some of the world’s greatest swimmers. But as he took the podium at this well-attended dinner event and as he spoke about his reflections, he did not talk about world records, jaw-dropping performances, or championships. Instead, he spoke about one thing – the friendships he made. The people he met. The interactions he had. After a lifetime of success, the one thing he remembered, the one thing that stood out, was the friendships he built with the people he met.
This weekend, Missy Franklin, Olympic gold medalist and probably the world’s best high school swimmer, will step to the blocks the final time of her high school career. She’ll compete at the Colorado High School State Championship, a meet that’s being swum at over 5,000 feet elevation. This is a meet where some said she shouldn’t compete. Some people claimed swimming high school was too easy, as if her Olympic credentials should deny her the experience of swimming alongside her best friends.
But Franklin decided to swim high school, a decision that is good for her, her school, her teammates, and high school swimming. Unlike what some people hinted at, Franklin is not seeking personal glory. Instead of competing in her Olympic forte events, the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Franklin is entered in the 200 IM and 500 freestyle. She’ll do just fine in these events, but they aren’t the events she swam in London. It makes you realize that Missy Franklin is not swimming high school to beat down on the competition, blaze new national records, and destroy her peers. It makes you wonder:
Just why is she swimming this meet?
Earlier this week, Franklin tweeted, “Just when I think I can't get any more excited/nervous for High School State the psych sheet comes out! #AH #weareready #raiderforever.” And I thought about that tweet, and other quotes Missy has given about being “nervous” about swimming high school. Why should she, an Olympic gold medalist, be nervous? What reasons does she have to be nervous?
The thing is, when you swim for a team, your races matter more. When you swim with your best friends, it matters more. When you swim with people you’ve grown up with, hung out with, and shared goals with, it matters more. This is what makes being part of a “team” worthwhile. This is why, a few years ago, that certain legendary coach stood in front of his supporters, friends, and colleagues, and thanked them.
This is why he said, “What I’ll remember most are the friends I made along the way.”
Leading to the high school season, there was speculation whether or not Missy Franklin would swim. She was an Olympic gold medalist. Critics chimed in. Parents of opposing teams. Why would Missy Franklin swim high school? What would she have to prove? What could she gain from the experience?
She’s going to gain what every single other high school senior gains from swimming her final high school swim meet alongside her teammates: A sense of camaraderie. A sense of belonging. Lifetime memories of being huddled together with these people you’ve known forever, looking in their eyes before the finals of the 400 freestyle relay, and saying one last final time, “Let’s do this.” Missy Franklin is not swimming necessarily to earn National Titles. If she were, she would swim the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke instead of the 200 IM and 500 freestyle. Reports have surfaced that she’s not even going to fully rest for the meet. I’d speculate that Franklin’s simply interested in being part of the team and competing alongside her best friends one last, final time.
When I reflect on my high school experience, the first thing I remember is not individual athletic achievements. I couldn’t recite exact times or precise placements. What I remember are teammates. Friends. Coaches. The long, hilarious bus rides to away meets. Hanging out on weekends. The trouble we got into. Post-meet pasta dinners. Christmas vacation sleep-overs. Relays. The final swim meet when we bonded together, joined hands, and pushed ourselves to swim to the best of our abilities.
For a long time, I wondered why Franklin tweeted out that she was “nervous.” And then it hit me: She’s nervous for her teammates. She’s nervous for her final meet. She’s nervous just like every other high school senior in the world going into their last high school swim meet. She is perhaps one of the greatest high school swimmers ever, and yet, she’s as nervous and excited as everyone else.
Why some people would want to deny her, or anyone, this experience, is beyond me. High school swimming was, and is, some of the best memories of my life. Franklin is not swimming to become the greatest high school swimmer ever. She’s not invested in her personal glory. She’s invested in her team.
This is what Missy Franklin will remember, long down the road, when she will eventually be honored for some lifetime achievement award. When she’s older, wrinkled and gray-haired, and all her records are broken and personal times bested by some other young, teenage phenom. One day, she will reflect on her remarkable career filled with championships, records, titles, and victories. In the stands will sit her teammates, coaches, friends, and family. She will see them and smile, and remember that last high school season -- that last high school state championship -- and the reasons why she was once nervous.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.