A sad story this week about Cal swimming legend Missy Franklin, who was just 17 years old when she became the first woman to win four gold medals in any sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
Franklin, now 25, told People magazine she can barely swim today.
"I really can't," she said. "I mean, my shoulders are in so much pain that I can maybe hop in the pool and swim easy for 20, 30 minutes, but that's about as much as my old broken shoulders can handle at this point.”
Franklin, who announced her retirement from the sport in 2018 because of chronic pain that had affected her for more than two years, told the publication she will “absolutely not” make a comeback as a competitive swimmer,
"I never got the second shoulder surgery that I needed and I just — I don't really see getting back in the water at this point in my life being the best thing for my physical or my mental health," she explained. "I kind of feel like I've given everything I possibly could to the sport and now it's to do good outside of the water.”
Franklin was a global star even before arriving from Aurora, Colorado to enroll at Cal in the fall of 2013.
In the summer before her senior year at Regis Jesuit High, Franklin took London by storm. She won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, 4x200 freestyle relay and 4x100 medley relay, setting Olympic records in three of them and world records in the 200 back and medley relay.
She also won a bronze medal in the 4x100 free relay.
Franklin was honored as the FINA international Swimmer of the Year in 2011 and ’12.
Notably for Cal, Franklin declined to accept any of the prize money or endorsement opportunities that came her way before or after the Olympics. She had won five medals, three of them gold, at the 2011 world championships, so the marketing world knew Franklin would be a star in London.
By remaining an amateur, Franklin was able to swim for coach Teri McKeever at Cal. She won four individual NCAA titles and three relays for the Bears in 2014 and ’15, helping the Bears to the 2015 national championship.
She was honored as NCAA Swimmer of the Year and earned the Honda Sports Award as the nation’s top female swimmer in 2015. Franklin also captured the Honda Cup that year as the nation’s top female athlete.
Franklin won her fifth career Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games as a member of the U.S. 4x200 free relay team. But she failed to qualify for the final in either of her two individual events and won her relay gold by swimming in the prelim round.
Four months before Rio, according to the Associated Press, she withdrew from a meet because of shoulder pain and later revealed she was struggling with depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Looking back, surviving through those eight days in Rio was the greatest accomplishment of my career,” Franklin wrote in her retirement letter in 2018. “I was able to stay true to who I was as much in failure and disappointment as I had in winning and being the best in the world.”
Franklin transferred to Georgia and earned a degree in religion on December 2019.
These days she serves as an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, working on the "Saving Lives Is Always in Season" campaign. The program promotes keeping pools open year-round for swim lessons and drowning prevention, even during th COVID-19 pandemic.
Franklin, who works alongside fellow Olympic swimmers Elizabeth Beisel, Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines, said, "Our main focus with this campaign is to bring awareness to the fact that swim lessons aren't just for the summertime, they're for every single season. So we’re really pushing for pools to stay open right now.”
During her competitive career, Franklin won 27 international medals — 11 of them gold — at the Olympics, world championships and Pan Pacific Championships.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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