Miss Olympic medalist: Missy Franklin
By Julie Filby
Photo by James Baca/DCR
They sent her off to London with best wishes and high hopes. Then last week the students of Regis Jesuit High School had a chance to come together to celebrate the accomplishments of classmate Missy Franklin—now a five-time Olympic medalist.
On Aug. 27 the combined enrollment of the girls’ and boys’ divisions—totaling more than 1,600—packed the gymnasium of the Aurora school for a pep rally to recognize Franklin, as well as the fall sports teams.
Franklin, 17, earned four gold medals at the summer games in the 100 backstroke, 800 freestyle relay, 200 backstroke and 400 medley relay; and a bronze in the 400 freestyle relay.
On July 30, when Franklin won her first individual gold medal in the 100 backstroke, she tweeted a message of gratitude to some 390,000 followers on Twitter: “I am so grateful for everything that has happened. God has blessed me with so much. Thank you so much for all the love and support!”
On Aug. 27, Gretchen Kessler, girls’ division principal, enlived the pep rally crowd at Regis Jesuit: “Funny thing,” she said, “this morning I found this little bronze medal in lost and found. I wonder if it belongs to anyone in the crowd…
“Missy, come on up!”
Students went wild chanting “USA! USA!” as the 6-foot-1-inch senior from Centennial popped up from her spot on the gym floor and headed to the podium.
Franklin had returned from London just days before school started Aug. 16, and mere hours after appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
“On behalf of everyone at Regis Jesuit, I want to congratulate you on your amazing results at this summer’s Olympics,” said Kessler, bronze medal in hand. “This lonely bronze, as it was called on Jay Leno, will always go down in history as your first Olympic medal, followed by four golds, and a few world records broken.”
Franklin broke world records in the 200 backstroke and 400 medley relay.
“Missy, you’re an extraordinary young woman because of the Olympics of course,” Kessler continued. “But more importantly, because of who you are and how you live your life.”
She acknowledged Franklin’s love of life, swimming, competition, and the teen’s reliance on God.
“You ask God to be with you every step of the way,” Kessler said. “You enjoy the ride, and your joy is infectious. Your smile lights up a room, and it lit up the summer Olympics.
“God must be very proud of you and what you’re doing—we certainly are.”
Franklin then took the microphone, responding to the cheers of “Missy! Missy!” with a heartfelt message to the crowd: “I love you.
“Thank you,” she continued. “You guys are my biggest support system and I couldn’t do it without you.
“I honestly can tell you I would not be standing here without you guys—so thank you so, so much.”
Then she and parents, Dick and D.A., each stood at an exit with one of her medals. Students were allowed not only to see the medals, but hold them, and snap a photo with Franklin.
“Her performance was truly amazing,” said senior Luca Evangelista following the rally. “It was great how she represented our school and we’re all really proud of her.”
Franklin spoke with the media briefly before returning to class.
Photo by James Baca/DCR
“I feel really awkward when I have to go to things that are all about me … (but) that was so great and I think everyone had a really good time,” she said, adding that her favorite part was an Olympics-inspired dance number by Silent Thunder, a group of girls’ division faulty members, donned in RJHS swim caps and goggles.
“I absolutely love them,” she said. “The fact that teachers would actually get up and do that in front of the students shows how close our school is.”
Franklin has welcomed the return to school following the intensity of the summer.
“My school’s my family,’ she said. “At the Olympics you get so immersed in what you’re doing it can feel like ‘It’s that’ or the end of the world.
“To (hear from friends) reminded me: ‘It’s OK, you have a whole other life you get to go back to.’”
In addition to swimming, her life at Regis has included Anglophile (British) Club, advanced dance, journalism and serving on a leadership team that welcomes new students. Franklin described last year’s Kairos retreat and two-week service project as two of the best experiences of her life.
“Both … changed my life,” she told the Denver Catholic Register in an earlier interview. “I am so thankful for Regis Jesuit, for they have brought God and so much meaning into my life.”
As a senior, she will be required to complete 85 service hours: 60 during a two-week service project and 25 on her own serving the poor or marginalized. These projects, as well as Masses, retreats and theology classes have impacted her spiritual life, including a potential conversion to Catholicism from a Protestant faith.
“I am considering converting to Catholicism,” she told the Register in April. “(At Regis) I began to realize how important God is in my life and how much I love him and need him.”
Daily reflection has also helped her maintain perspective.
“I find time at the end of every day to reflect on what happened that day,” she said, “and I keep a journal.
“Those are my own ‘me moments’ when I just get to take a few minutes.”
She looks forward to getting back in the pool next week after a month-long break and settling into her new normal.
“I don’t think normal is the same in anyone’s book,” she said. “So right now I’m just creating my own version of my normal.”
Franklin traveled to the University of California Berkeley last weekend for her first college recruiting trip, and plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.