Guest feature by Mike Gustafson
One evening on Twitter, 18-year-old Danielle Jennette, a senior on the King's Fort High School swim team in Suffolk, Va., was joking around with friends about who she would take to her prom. They were all naming names. She couldn't decide who she wanted to go with. Then, it hit her.
“I told myself, 'I want to bring Ryan Lochte,'” the affable Jennette said over the phone a few days ago. “I don't want it to be a dream.”
It's one thing to sit back and declare intention to bring a multiple-Olympic gold medalist to your senior prom. It's another thing to actually do it. So, Jennette formulated a social media campaign: She started a Twitter account (@RyanLochteProm). She started a Facebook page (Ryan Lochte will you go to prom with me?). And she got the ball rolling.
At first, it started out slowly. She only had 30 followers on Twitter. People didn't take her that seriously — they thought she was crazy. Then, one day, the Suffolk News Herald ran an article about her campaign to bring Ryan Lochte to prom. That's when things started getting actually crazy.
“When the first article came out from the Suffolk News Herald, that's when it started to escalate,” Jennette said. “My coach thought it was crazy. My parents thought it was crazy. My friends thought it was crazy. Now they are thinking, 'Wow, this could actually happen.'”
Jennette created a YouTube video that features classmates, friends, and total strangers holding up signs urging Ryan Lochte to go to prom with Jennette. (She got more than 40 signs and pieces of art total.)
She was featured on local TV. She gets messages from strangers who support her efforts to get The Lochtenator to reach out. After swimming four years on her high school swim team, Lochte is one of Jennette's sports idols.
“I didn't know much about the Olympics. I saw Ryan swim and I just thought he was fast. Then this summer, I know how hard swimming is being a swimmer for three years,” Jennette said. “After I saw him swim, I said, 'Man, what an inspiration. It's amazing he can swim that fast.'”
She was hooked. She was a Lochte fan. And, like many high school seniors around the country, she'd love to take one of the world's most popular athletes to her biggest dance of her high school career. The story itself like something from a movie. But this campaign is not simply about getting Ryan Lochte to go to senior prom. Jennette has begun fundraising for Ryan's favorite charity, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. Her goal is to raise $2,013 — the same year of her senior prom. So far, she has raised $300. (You can donate here.)
“My swim team is going to do a fundraiser. We're going to raise more money for that charity,” Jennette said. “So even if Ryan doesn't go to prom with me, we'll still raise money for charity. It will be an amazing experience.”
So far, Jennette hasn't heard from Lochte. In fact, she's never heard from him, except once back in October on her birthday when Ryan Tweeted a happy birthday message to her. That's when she first thought that communication was possible with him. But she's hoping that will soon change.
“It would just make my entire high school career, let alone be a great ending to my senior year. The reaction when he walks in and people's faces, 'Wow, he actually showed up.'”
It's every high schooler's dream to take a celebrity to senior prom. But what distinguishes Danielle Jennette from others is not only her easy-going, friendly nature, but her appreciation that even if Ryan Lochte is too busy with his busy schedule to find time to go to her senior prom, some good can come from the attention and campaign. She's raising money for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. She's organizing a fundraiser. She's doing more than most of us, all just to create some good in this world.
Wouldn't it be great if something good — like Ryan Lochte unexpectedly showing up in a full white tuxedo and limousine on May 24, 2013 — happened in return to Danielle?
When I asked Danielle what she would say if Ryan actually called her, she got excited. I could hear her smiling on the other side of the phone. She paused a moment, then collected herself:
“I would say, 'Ryan would you be my escort to my senior prom?'”
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.
Ryan Lochte had to decline the invitation, but made the effort to send a special note and flowers!