Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin charged into town Saturday to a rapturous welcome from Wake County’s young swimmers and their parents.
Olivia Haroldson, 13, of Cary likes Franklin because, well, Missy Franklin is plain awesome. Better than Michael Phelps.
Ginger Haroldson likes Franklin for the life lessons she can impart to her daughter. There’s team spirit and tidiness: After a national meet ended, Haroldson noticed Franklin cleaning the swim area, picking up towels and water bottles, leaving the place as neat as she found it.
And there is the lesson on giving it your all, Haroldson said. “Missy said something like, ‘If you don’t feel like you’re going to throw up at the end of the race, you didn’t swim as hard as you could.’ ”
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A two-time Olympian and winner of four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, Franklin came to Raleigh on Saturday to spend time with the Marlins of Raleigh Swim Team, the area’s biggest swim club. About 300 swimmers and their families filled the stands at the N.C. State Aquatics Center.
Franklin is incurably upbeat, constantly positive and effervescently enthusiastic. Close your eyes and you can hear the ear-to-ear grin in her voice.
“So cool!” “Amazing!” “Awesome!” “So excited!”
She even managed to wring some joy out of jet lag, describing how she woke in a Raleigh hotel Saturday morning after flying in from Hawaii, six time zones away.
“My alarm went off, and I was so out of it,” she laughed. “You know, I didn’t know what country I was in, I didn’t know what my name is!”
And she pinpointed the moment where she decided to give swimming her all.
At 13, Franklin competed at 2008 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha. She didn’t qualify to swim in any events at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but being in same pool with her idols was transforming.
“I had the time of my life!” Franklin exulted. “I finished 35th – I was stoked!”
On the seven-hour drive home to Colorado, Franklin informed her parents that her goal was to make the 2012 Olympic team.
It was really cool to hear how determined she was. Telling her parents what her goal was and going on to achieve it.
Olivia Haroldson, 13
The story of that car ride, of Franklin’s determination to complete a task four years in the making, impressed Olivia Haroldson, who, it must be noted, was wearing pearl earrings, a fashion trademark of her hero.
“It was really cool to hear how determined she was,” Haroldson said. “Telling her parents what her goal was and going on to achieve it.”
After her talk, Franklin spent an hour in the pool with some of the swimmers, running through drills, some goofy, some serious.
Paul Silver, the director of Marlins of Raleigh, wished he could keep Franklin on as coach.
“Those kids hung on every word she said,” Silver said. “They don’t listen to me like that.”
Silver elaborated on one point that Franklin made: Swimming teaches time management. High school swimmers can practice twice a day, before and after school, as well as on Saturday. They learn to juggle their sport and schoolwork. Silver said his swim club of 580 members has an average GPA of 3.6.
“They are all really interested in swimming and succeeding in school,” Silver said. “Our kids do really well academically.”
After the swimming clinic, Franklin spent an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with the Marlins.
Among them was Parker Shook, 13, who handed Franklin a photo she had autographed in 2013. She squealed with delight: “Of course I remember you!”
At the 2013 Nationals in Indianapolis, Shook desperately wanted her autograph. Then 10 years old, he made a sign that said “Missy Franklin, will you be my first kiss?” He sat in the stands all day, trying to get her attention. At the end of the evening, Franklin walked right by him and out the door.
Shook was despondent, his mother said.
Then Franklin reappeared and handed the dumbstruck youth the gold medal she won that day in the 200-meter backstroke.
Shook won’t forget what she said: “Thank you for making my day!”
Did he get a kiss?
“No,” he said. “But I have her medal.”