Missy Franklin’s Path to Professional Swimming

Jun 18, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Missy Franklin (USA) in the pool during her warm up session on Day One of the Arena Pro Series at Santa Clara, at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, Calif. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

By Peter Baugh, Swimming World Staff Writer

Even as an 8-year-old, Missy Franklin had quite a collection of trophies. Before earning Olympic medals and NCAA plaques, she was awarded for participating in soccer, basketball, volleyball and, of course, swimming.

Franklin’s mother, D.A., on the other hand, never played sports. In fact, she did not own a single trophy.

Missy wanted this to change. She wanted her mother to be rewarded. She saved her money until she had enough to purchase a high-quality $60 trophy. On Christmas, she presented it to D.A.  

Inscribed on the wooden base were the words, “To the best mother in the world.”

“It was just so darling and so sweet, and she was very excited giving it to me,” D.A. said.

As Franklin has grown into a 20-year-old world-class swimmer, her love and trust for her parents remains as strong as it was on Christmas morning in 2003.

D.A. and Dick, Missy’s father, are there for their daughter when she has to make hard decisions. This was especially clear after the 2012 Olympics, when Missy was presented with a unique and daunting choice: swim professionally or compete in college.

The Plan

Jan 16, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Missy Franklin before competing in the women's 200 meter free final during the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Missy Franklin turned heads with her showing at the 2012 London Olympic Games. At age 17, the then-high schooler won four gold medals and a bronze and also set a world record in the 200-meter backstroke.

“I wasn’t really expecting the success that I had,” she said. “And all of a sudden, I was being offered sponsorship deals and endorsements, and we really had a choice to make.”

By swimming in college, the Denver native would turn down large sums of endorsement money. Missy gives her parents credit for presenting the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

“We let her know there were offsets for any decision either way, that the pro world was very, very different from college,” Dick Franklin said. “And there’s always chances of injury, which means that all the pro offers could go away.”

Missy knew she wanted the community of a college team. She told her parents that it was an experience she felt she needed to have.

And so the Franklin family made a plan. Missy would compete at the University of California, Berkeley for two seasons, then switch to professional swimming before the 2016 Olympics.

Mar 21, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Missy Franklin after swimming in 200m backstroke during NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving-Championships at Greensboro Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Evan Pike – USA TODAY Sports Images

From the start of her college career, Franklin was open with the California coaches about her intention to go pro after her sophomore year. After seven NCAA event titles in two seasons, the 20-year-old followed through with her plan.

“After how much personal growth I had at Cal, after how much (coach) Teri (McKeever) taught me, after how much my teammates taught me, I really did feel like I was ready for this next stage in my career and this next stage in my life,” Franklin said. “I don’t think I would’ve been ready for that without that college experience.”

Going Pro

When Franklin left California, she was presented with a myriad of endorsement opportunities. She did not take these offers lightly and considered what each brought to the table.

“Missy really wants to be a good role model for kids,” D.A. said. “Not just swimmers, not just athletes, but kids. I’m proud of the way she looks at every offer, every opportunity in that light.”

Franklin has three sponsors: Speedo, Minute Maid and the USA Swimming Foundation. The companies either visit her, or she travels for events and releases. Though at times traveling can be hectic, Franklin says, “it’s something that I get really excited about.”

When considering offers, Franklin looks for companies that focus on who she is as an individual, not just an athlete.

“If you partner with companies that like who you are as a person and what you bring to the table as a human being, I feel like that just takes off so much pressure to feel like you have to perform in order to make your sponsors happy,” she said.

Even with two or three endorsement obligations a month, Franklin says she has not felt any added pressure. She trains hard and works to represent her sponsors well but trusts they care about more than just swimming results.

SEENIGAMA, SRI LANKA-OCTOBER 6, 2015: Laureus Ambassador and Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin greets end of Sri Lankan young swimmers training session during the Missy Franklin Sri Lanka Project Visit at Sport Academy Swimming Pool of Foundation of Goodness on October 6, 2015 in Seenegama, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Laureus/Getty Images)

Photo Courtesy: Buddhika Weerasinghe

Competing collegiately gave Franklin’s family time to plan for her transition to professional swimming. While at California, Missy asked her parents to research different agents because of her busy schedule.

“It gave us a tremendous amount of time to plan, to strategize,” Dick Franklin said. “We were able to take our time and vet all the agencies and meet with them all and talk to subject matter experts and legal people … we had all of that dialed in because we knew what the calendar was, we knew what the timing was and we stuck to it.”

After her parents narrowed down her options to a short list of agents, Missy made the ultimate decision. She chose Mark Ervin of WME-IMG. Dick Franklin has been happy with the choice, saying that Ervin has had strong communication with the family throughout the process.

Now, Franklin has financial security because of her endorsement deals. This is both exciting and reassuring for the family.

“It’ll give her the flexibility to live the way she wants to and do what she wants,” Dick Franklin said. “As parents, that’s the best thing you can ask for for your child.”

Current Training

In her current routine, Franklin is sleeping in later than she ever has in her competitive swimming career: 6:30 a.m.

She has returned to her home state to train with the Colorado Stars, her club swim team. Franklin lives with her parents, and D.A. says that it’s been “fantastic” having her back home.

“We thought we were an empty nest forever, and when we found out that she was coming home for a year, what a treat,” D.A. said. “What a wonderful surprise.”

Franklin considered staying in Berkeley and training with the California team, though she would not have been able to compete.

Ultimately, though, she felt that Colorado was where she needed to be. Franklin’s home state provides her with a number of unique opportunities. She is able to train at a higher altitude and also has access to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Going home, Franklin and her coach did not know exactly what her training would look like.

“When Missy decided to come back, I truly had no idea how it was going to work,” said Todd Schmitz, Franklin’s longtime coach with the Colorado Stars. “All I told Missy was, ‘I’m going to make this work and it’s going to be good.’”

missy-franklin-austin-phillips-todd-schmitz-beijing

Missy Franklin with teammate Austin Phillips and coach Todd Schmitz. Photo Courtesy: Todd Schmitz

And it has. After Missy joined the team, swimmers began contacting Schmitz to ask about training with the Stars, and the team now has a small group of college-age and post-graduate swimmers.

Swimmers from all over the world came to train with Franklin and the Stars. Missy now calls her training partners “the international misfits.”

“It’s the most random training group you will ever encounter in your life, but it’s amazing,” she said. “We all just work so well together, we fit in so great and we have an awesome time. It’s always interesting coming to the wall and hearing four different languages.”

The group currently has around six members. Tang Yi, the bronze medalist in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2012 Olympics, recently joined the Stars. The group also features Fernanda Gonzalez, a Mexican Olympian, and Austin Phillips, a University of Utah swimmer who is one of Franklin’s lifelong friends.

Schmitz says the group is the perfect size.

“It’s really by happenstance that it just started rolling,” he said. “I don’t want that post-grad (group) to get really big.”

After waking up at 6:30, Franklin has practice with her training group at 8 a.m. When practice ends at 10 a.m., she grabs some food before heading to a dryland session from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. She then has a short break before practice at 3 p.m., when she swims with both her small group and the high schoolers on the Stars team.

In the current setup, Schmitz feels that his veteran group benefits from two different types of swimming practices.

“It’s a real nice balance of environments,” he said. “I think they get some good attention and get some good stroke work and some good long course in in the mornings, and then in the afternoons they can bring their leadership and swim short course yards and kind of mix it up a little bit.”

After the Olympics, Franklin plans on returning to California. She would swim with the school team and take classes, but would not be able to compete in NCAA meets.

Though she is thrilled with how training has been in Colorado, she does miss her second home.

“This is without a doubt the largest sacrifice I’ve ever had to make,” Franklin said. “First and foremost, my teammates. Those girls are my family, so being away from them everyday has just been so hard … I miss being in a classroom, I miss going to cafes and studying. I miss Berkeley and its atmosphere … I need to keep reminding myself that I’m going to be back there in the fall. My college experience is far from over. I have a lot to look forward to.”

Since Franklin returned to Colorado, Schmitz has loved working with her. He says she is a a great teammate and “works her butt off” to improve.

As her coach, Schmitz wants his training to bring Franklin to her peak potential.

“We want Missy to be the strongest and fittest Missy’s ever been,” he said. “I think that if we do those two things then the ball is, so to speak, in Missy’s court.”

Looking Ahead

As soon as the calendar flipped to 2016, the swimming world shifted its focus to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We can’t believe it’s here,” D.A. Franklin said. “We can’t believe it’s 2016 and it went so quickly. It just seems like yesterday we were at Olympic Trials in 2008, which was her first Trials.”

Though the Olympics are right around the corner, Missy’s parents make sure that she does not get too far ahead of herself. Instead of Rio, the family’s focus is currently on Omaha, the home of the Olympic Trials.

D.A. says that they do not discuss Rio traveling plans or logistics with Missy. First things first, she has to make the team by swimming well at Olympic Trials.

“It all comes down to Omaha,” Dick Franklin said. “We all have a very specific path to Omaha, and she’s right on that path right now.”

On top of the high expectations of the Olympic year, Franklin is making her transition into professional swimming. But her family says the increased fame and fortune has not changed who she is as a person.

FINA World Championships Missy Franklin

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

Dick talks about how Missy still treats her parents with love and respect. D.A. still loves watching her daughter smile and dance before her races. Through all the changes, Missy is still Missy.

“At the end of the day, it’s teaching life lessons through swimming that are going to make a difference,” Schmitz said. “And I truly feel that that’s what is going to make Missy Franklin’s name a household name for the next couple generations.”

Even with all the changes in the past year, Franklin has no regrets. She cherishes her memories and is excited for the future.

“It’s been an incredible journey, an incredible process, and I’m so thankful for all of it,” she said. “I’ve learned so much, and I can’t wait for it to continue.”

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Janet George

    Great article!

  2. avatar
    Toby Nims

    Just found this article and found it very enlightling. A good read and well done.