Dick Franklin leaped out of his chair, threw his book into the sand and plunged into the surf to try to retrieve his daughter.
“I caught her 35 feet out in the ocean,” he said, “in about 12 feet of water.”
Said D.A., a casual swimmer: “That was it. I was done. I never snorkled with her again.”
Almost since birth, Missy Franklin, now 16, possessed an unusual appetite and aptitude for moving through bodies of water. A sophomore honors student at Aurora’s Regis Jesuit High, Franklin owns a world record and five world championship medals and draws frequent comparisons to Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever.
Promising young stars raise hopes in every four-year Olympic cycle, but rarely does one come along quite like Franklin. In an age in which ever-advancing training methods, equipment, nutrition and medical care have pushed speed records to almost incomprehensible levels, athletes such as Franklin and Phelps have advantages that can’t be otherwise acquired: bodies seemingly hand-crafted to excel in their disciplines.
Like Phelps, Franklin appears more suited for the sea than land. She stands 6-feet-1, wears size 13 shoes and sports a 6-foot-4 wingspan. When such phyically gifted swimmers perform at their peak, keeping pace with them is virtually impossible.
My “physique is definitely so helpful,” Franklin said. “My feet — my parents always say — are like my built-in flippers . . . I definitely don’t think I would be where I am in swimming without the body that I have. I am so blessed. I have height, the big feet, the big hands; I think all of that has helped me so much.”
At age 12, Franklin qualified for her first Olympic trials. By age 14, she traveled overseas with Phelps and other top U.S. stars after making her first senior U.S. team. Last October, she set a short-course (25-meter pool) world record in the 200-meter backstroke during a meet in Berlin, Germany. She has turned down nearly $150,000 in prize money, including $73,000 during a four-day period last fall, to maintain her collegiate eligibility.
“She has all the physical attributes . . . [and] flexibility and beautiful technique because of that,” said Bob Bowman, Phelps’s longtime coach. “She has good proportion, the way her body is laid out . . . She’s the closest thing to Michael [that I’ve seen]. I don’t want to curse her with that.”
The physical traits are enhanced by the natural and instinctive; Bowman — who has worked with Franklin during various USA Swimming training camps and trips — also raves about her fearlessness and competitive spirit. Franklin’s parents say she first left their mouths agape when got she doused by a frigid wave in Charleston, S.C., at three months old, an event that left her cooing with glee while a similarly drenched baby cousin choked and screamed.