COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The fourth Saturday of every October is National Make A Difference Day. But for five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Missy Franklin, there’s no reason to wait to have an impact.
Since retiring last year, Franklin has put her focus into giving back, specifically to the sports community. Earlier this month, Franklin visit the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center to work with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Team USA Ambassador Program.
This program tells athletes, from a firsthand perspective of their peers, what to expect at an upcoming Olympic/Paralympic Games. Everything from describing the media attention to outlining the distance one will walk in the athlete village is covered by the series that Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will watch in preparation for Tokyo.
“It’s such an incredible resource for these athletes, especially for the first-timers that really don’t know what to expect going into their first Games,” Franklin said. “So, we try to cover every topic imaginable and really help them just gain a better understanding and more confidence going into the Games, so they know what to expect.”
Franklin’s decision to participate in the program was an easy one, as she knew how much the program meant to her when she relied on it as an athlete. Franklin competed at two Olympic Games, London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, taking home six medals altogether.
“The Olympics are different every single time; there are different challenges, different distractions, different things to be excited about,” Franklin explained. “So, just to have that refresher of what to expect… It really helps you go into a Games with more confidence, knowing that there are things that are out of your control, but you have a better idea of what those are going to be, so you know to stay focused on what you can control.”
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The USOPC launched the Team USA Ambassador Program in 2008, leading into the Beijing Games, with the goal of empowering athletes to be Team USA ambassadors and stewards of the Olympic and Paralympic ideals while preparing them for the Games environment. Prior to the Tokyo version, more than 3,600 athletes have completed the program.
Franklin spent a day filming with two-time Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Rico Roman for the online portion of the program, and several additional athletes will be featured in the program to give hopefuls a well-rounded perspective. For those who make it to Tokyo, there is then an in-person aspect as well.
“It’s just amazing hearing from veterans on their own experience and so many different people that are featured throughout the program that really help give you an idea,” Franklin said.
One of the biggest shocks for Franklin at her first Games was the amount of attention she received from the media. She described how, while there is a lot of media at an event like a world championships, there is “nothing like” the amount of attention at the Olympic Games. She was thankful she had this program to prepare her as much as possible.
“To have a better idea going into it of how much I was going to be expected to be involved with media, how much I was going to be doing with them, and just in general that it’s a huge presence there, really helped going into it,” Franklin said. “I think I would have definitely been thrown off if I didn’t have the education beforehand.”
Despite all there is to know, Franklin had no doubt as to what her biggest piece of advice is for an athlete going into their first Games.
“Even though it is the Olympics, and it is incredible – it’s crazy, there are two billion people watching you – at the end of the day it’s the same thing you’ve been doing your whole life,” Franklin said. “We always tell rookies on the swim team, it’s the same 200-meter backstroke, it’s the same 400 individual medley, nothing changes about the pool, nothing changes about the race.”
And it’s crucial to keep in mind the ultimate goal of an Olympic or Paralympic Games: enjoy it.
“[Remember] there is so much excitement around this, but this is something I’ve been doing my whole life, and I know how to do it, and I do it well enough that I made it here,” Franklin said. “So, go out, do what you do best and just have fun.”
Franklin continues to be extremely involved in sport and giving back. She works with the USA Swimming Foundation as an ambassador, working to raise awareness about pool-related accidents and provide swim lessons for lower income communities.
In addition, she serves as a Laureus ambassador, an organization started by Nelson Mandela focused on using sport for good in communities around the world.
For Franklin, this way of life is natural for her after the conclusion of her professional career.
“The best way I can think to say, ‘Thank you,’ is to give all of that back.”