Missy Franklin presents an award on stage at the Laureus Awards on Feb. 18, 2019 in Monaco.
MONTE CARLO, Monaco – Five-time Olympic champion swimmer Missy Franklin doesn’t even try to stifle her trademark sweetly infectious giggle when she is asked about life as a retired athlete.
She realizes it sounds a little odd for a 23-year-old, who is just finishing up college, to say she is retired from anything career-wise. But Franklin’s serious shoulder injuries got to the point where the grind of elite swimming and training became too painful, so she announced the end to her illustrious career two months ago.
“I know, can you believe it? I am totally — retired,” Franklin said, putting extra emphasis on the last word.
Franklin, the six-time Olympic medalist and one of the best backstrokers in history, is looking forward to new chapters in her life. She’s getting married in September to former Texas swimmer Hayes Johnson, finishing her bachelor’s degree by the end of 2019 and looking to get more involved with meaningful philanthropic projects.
Franklin admits getting to the place of giving up swimming, something that has influenced every part of her life for nearly two decades, wasn’t easy. She said her disappointing individual performance at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 haunted her, and the shoulder injuries and pain made her question her purpose in life.
“It all broke me down,” Franklin said. “After Rio, I was asking myself, ‘Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing?’ And those are awful questions to struggle with. And I did seriously struggle. A lot of athletes struggle with depression post-Olympics, because you don’t know what your life is supposed to be like next.
“I have always had faith. And my faith led me to say, ‘God, I have no idea what you want from me right now, but I am going to wait to find out.’ I had strong support from wonderful family and friends, and now this all makes so much sense to me. Everything has worked out in its own way and time. All for the best.”
Franklin still holds the American and world records in the 200-meter long course backstroke, and shares another world mark in the 4x100 medley in short and long courses.
She was recently in Monte Carlo for a few days as part of the Laureus World Sports Awards, and for meetings with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Franklin won the Laureus World Sportswoman award in 2014 and has become more involved with their global charity work.
She is part of their academy and also is a global sports ambassador, joining U.S stars such as Edwin Moses and Allyson Felix from track and field, skateboarder Tony Hawk and snowboarder Kelly Clark.
Franklin went to Sri Lanka in 2015 to represent Laureus, visiting children at the Foundation of Goodness program. She swam with them and learned about how sport improved their lives.
Last week, she helped present an award to a group of teen girls from the Yuwa soccer and schooling program from Jharkhand state in eastern India. She listened intently to their stories, as they are becoming educated and have big dreams in an area rife with majority child marriage and illiteracy for girls.
“That was so impactful for me, meeting them and being inspired by their accomplishments,” Franklin said. “It was like that when I went to Sri Lanka too, really getting to go there and see the good that is happening because of Laureus and the groups it is supporting around the world. Now that I have more time, I can really look at traveling more to places and getting involved. It’s my honor to help support their work in any way that I can.”
Franklin has a lot on her schedule, belying her retired status. She is finishing her religion degree at the University of Georgia and is deep in wedding planning for a ceremony in her native Denver.
She moved to Athens, Georgia, last year, to train with the Bulldogs swim team and former national coach Jack Bauerle. The goal was to launch a serious comeback for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but her wonky shoulders soon sent a different message. Out of the pool, a lot of her psychology major credits from Cal failed to transfer to Georgia, so she decided to pick a new focus.
“It was been the best decision, because as part of the core major, I am taking classes in Islam, Buddhism, all the world religions and cultures,” Franklin said. “I love going to class and just learning so much about these things. It’s just fascinating. Makes me connect even more to the world and people.”
Franklin seems happy, at peace with her decision to leave swimming and clearly excited about the new things in her life.
“It’s all happening pretty fast – I’m getting married soon, graduating, all of it,” Franklin said. “Just so many things to be grateful for. I am so happy. I am exactly in the place where I need to be in my life.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for The New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.