When you ask six-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin about life after swimming, you won’t hear about regret or retirement.
Instead, the 24-year-old smiles as she shares the story of life after her December 2018 decision to step away from the sport: she’s gotten married, bought a home and become a dog mom, all amid what would better be classified as a new chapter as opposed to the end of an old one. All of which she’s glowingly “grateful” for, she says repeatedly.
Although she may be retired from competitive swimming, Franklin is only now beginning to be a retired athlete. That is, living a sport-adjacent life that is focused on finding new business partners, continuing to grow her brand, and using her platform to make a difference and inspire others.
“For so long, swimming gave me so many opportunities that, ironically, at the time I couldn’t pursue because my priority was swimming,” Franklin says. “So now I have the time I’ve always wanted to pursue the things I’m passionate about. A lot of it has been working with companies and foundations that swimming has brought me to, and that’s been super amazing to connect those worlds.”
Most recently, the retired star signed on as one of seven athlete ambassadors for Bridgestone heading into the upcoming Olympic cycle alongside track and field star Allyson Felix, para-swimmer Jessica Long and fellow swimmer Ryan Murphy.
She is also still partnered with swim-giant Speedo and bottled water brand Dasani, and has continued her work with the USA Swimming Foundation and the learn to swim school SafeSplash.
Franklin says she’s found the most success when she focuses on two things in partnerships: longevity and authenticity. The former, she says, shows a commitment that connects with her values and those of her audience. The latter assesses if the brand aligns with her own image.
“The most important thing for me from a business perspective since I became a professional athlete was long-term relationships and working with companies that are going to be with you from day one to the end – the end being like literally retirement, not sport retirement, like actual retirement,” Franklin, still shy of 25, says without a trace of irony. “So I have been cautious in that process of agreeing to partner with someone so that it’s not mindless, it’s not thoughtless. It’s authentic. That has to be the main factor. Because if there’s no authenticity in a business relationship, it’s not going to benefit anyone.”
The biggest compliment a friend, fan, or potential partner can give her, Franklin says, is that she’s relatable. Being relatable makes her more marketable, yes, but also gives legitimacy to the brand she’s been trying to build. Relatability is linked to the exact quality she’s trying to embody and bolster in her business partners: authenticity.
And while she tries to make sure her brand is rooted in nothing more than her being, there’s also an element of intentionality with that very aspect of it all, aligning her actions with her words and commitments. Ensuring that the person she is in retirement reflects the person she tried to portray herself as while she was building her platform during her competitive career has become a priority for Franklin over the last 14 months, especially.
“You definitely become more aware of your own brand after you’re done swimming or whatever it is,” Franklin says. “When you are competing, [you’re] building your platform. You’re building this image of yourself throughout wins, losses, success and failure, interviews, whatever it is. You put out into the world the kind of person you want to be. Then when you retire, now it’s [about] what you’re going to do with it. Now is your chance to actually prove that.”
Franklin also wants her brand to be as much about inspiration as it is about authenticity, a goal that gave way to two of her newest partnerships.
The youngest-ever winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award after her performances at the London Olympics and subsequent World Championships in Barcelona, Franklin recently became the youngest ever Laureus Academy Member after her retirement from swimming. Members act, on a volunteer basis, as ambassadors for the foundation’s mission of using sport to “break down barriers, inspire change, and improve the lives of young people around the world.”
Following her induction into the foundation in 2019, Franklin began working to support the 200 initiatives Laureus partners with that impact millions of children in more than 40 countries, including the United States. Much of Franklin’s work with the non-profit has been focused on partnerships and site visits within the U.S., where Laureus is hoping to land a larger following. She has quickly become one of the foundation’s most active U.S.-based academy members alongside skateboarder Tony Hawk and four-time Olympic track and field star Michael Johnson.
Regarding her new partnership with Bridgestone – a subsidiary of the world’s largest tire and rubber company and also a Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner – Franklin cited the brand’s inclusivity of the Paralympic games as an authentic access point to one of her passions.
“No disrespect to the Olympics, but the Paralympics are almost more inspiring to me,” Franklin says. “What those athletes do is amazing, and I’ve always thought there needed to be more supportive of that, and Bridgestone is doing that by partnering with both.”
Franklin doesn’t see her focus shifting anytime soon, even as she continues to expand her business portfolio. Whoever she signs with next will be someone she wants to stay with, until, as she puts it, actual retirement.
This story has been updated to reflect that Franklin won six Olympic medals during the Games of 2012 and 2016 .