By Shoshanna Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, January 21. IT is often difficult to realize the widespread influence a person has. Missy Franklin's Olympic accomplishments and all-around natural talent in the pool are easy to recognize. Harder is recognizing the impact Franklin, as a public figure, has on other young girls.
At this weekend's Austin Arena Grand Prix, there was a special young lady cheering Franklin on in the crowd. Lawryn Scott, and her mother, Jaqueline, drove seven hours from Shreveport, Louisiana to watch Lawryn's idol swim. Franklin's swimming success inspired 13-year-old Lawryn to pursue competitive swimming.
"She's always been shy of her height, and has always been bigger than all of the kids," Jaqueline told Swimming World about her nearly six-foot-tall daughter. "Watching Missy Franklin, [Lawryn] saw that she also had size 13 feet. It started building her self esteem, and she wanted to be like her."
Swimming has not always been a part of the Scott family. Jacqueline, an attorney who pulled herself up from an impoverished childhood in Shreveport, talks about how she would avoid the local swimming pool as a child because of a high number of drowning incidents in her community.
"Years ago, I built a swimming pool and I didn't know how to swim," she said. "The reason I had not learned how to swim myself was because there were so many kids that [had] drowned in my community."
Drowning statistics are shockingly high among African-American children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 5-14 are nearly three times more likely to drown than white children. This is exacerbated by the fact that, according to a 2010 study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, nearly 70 percent of African-American children do not know how to swim. Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, now a major figurehead in USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash campaign, which promotes the importance of swim lessons for young children, was only placed into swim lessons after he nearly drowned at age 5.
In fact, one of the reasons Jaqueline built her backyard pool was to prompt herself and Lawryn into swim lessons. "I wanted to learn how to swim myself. Before I allowed [Lawryn] to swim, I had to learn to swim as well as she."
So the Scotts joined a local swim school and took lessons; shortly thereafter, Lawyrn felt the urge to take her swimming farther.
"She wanted to become competitive," Jaqueline explained. "So she started watching Missy Franklin swim."
Jaqueline hoped that one day her daughter would have an opportunity to meet Franklin in person.
"When I learned that [Franklin] was going to be in Austin, I was thinking, 'Lawryn, she's going to be close!' I never thought she would have the opportunity to meet her, and I wanted her to."
So the Scotts planned their road trip to Austin on Saturday, January 19, 2013. They watched Franklin win titles: first in the 200 freestyle, and then in her signature 200 backstroke, which Franklin set the world record in at the London Olympics.
"It was really exciting," Lawryn said about meeting Franklin and watching her compete. "I was really happy because she's inspired me so much. She's such a good swimmer and is so sweet."
The Scotts met Franklin and her family after Saturday's preliminary session. "We got some cute photos and so did Lawryn's mom," Franklin's mom, DA, told Swimming World. "She cried when the girls met ... Lovely people!"
"Missy meeting her this weekend has really inspired Lawryn and boosted her self-esteem because [Franklin] is so tall," Jaqueline said. "It's been difficult because everybody thinks [Lawryn] is much older and they treat her like she is much older."
Lawryn is nearly as tall as 6-foot-1 Franklin. Franklin has previously told media that her height "...has helped me so much. God has blessed me with an excellent swimmer's body." Apart from her height, Franklin's feet have also drawn a considerable amount of media attention. Yahoo! Sports devoted an entire article in August to detailing the notice Franklin's size-13 feet drew in London.
Lawryn has begun to accept her own body, realizing that Franklin's size allows her to do incredible things in the pool. In fact, Franklin's dad has even said that his daughter's feet are "...built-in flippers."
"She makes me want to work harder and be better in swimming," Lawryn told Swimming World via phone en route to swim practice.
Besides their size-13 feet, there's one more similarity between the two young ladies: a talent in backstroke. Says Lawryn: "My favorite stroke is breaststroke, but honestly I'm better at backstroke."
Perhaps one day Lawryn will be answering media questions about how her size-13 feet helped her succeed in swimming. But for now, recognizing the impact Missy Franklin's stardom had on a young lady struggling with her body is inspiration enough.