At 23, most people are just entering the beginning years of their career. For Missy Franklin, it was supposed to be the beginning of hers too.
The five-time Olympic gold medalist was set to be the heir-apparent to Michael Phelps after she dominated the 2012 London Games, becoming the first woman to win four golds in a single Olympics in any sport.
It wasn’t meant to be.
In 2015, Franklin began to suffer from intense shoulder pain. Diagnosed with severe chronic tendinitis of the rotator cuff and biceps, Franklin underwent surgery on both of her shoulders in January and February 2017.
The road to recovery didn’t go as planned and Franklin was left with two options: Get another surgery and try to rehab again, or stop swimming altogether. She decided on the latter and retired from swimming in December of last year.
While Franklin was disappointed with the outcome, she knew that it was time for her to take on the next challenges in life, something that she is excited about.
“Philanthropy is going to be a huge branch for me,” said Franklin at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “I want to do more field work for Laureus; I want to see what different kinds of opportunities pop up.”
One of the opportunities she’s most excited about is being able to do more public speaking. Having been able to speak at a few places while she was swimming, Franklin is planning to take advantage of a schedule that won’t see her in the pool in the middle of January.
“We were in Estonia a couple of weeks ago and I was talking to the Eastern European Coca-Cola team, which I would’ve never been able to do that in the middle of January.”
Unlike other Olympians, Franklin waited to go pro, instead opting to head to the University of California Berkeley in 2013 to swim collegiately. While many observers saw a move that resulted in Franklin missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars, Franklin wasn’t as concerned.
“I’m sure I missed out on more money, but that was never my intention; that’s never why I was swimming. I was so proud to be with the sponsors that I was with. Looking back on my career, I couldn’t have imagined being partnered with better people and better companies. So even though there’s still this idea that if you don’t go pro early, you’re going to be missing out. I feel like I had the best possible experience, even with waiting.”
It was that waiting, along with the help from her agent Mark Urban, that made sure Franklin wasn’t just in a partnership for an Olympic cycle — she was in it for life.
“I always strived to have authentic partnerships and for us, the goal was to find companies who were looking for the same thing. Mark did a great job of helping them realize like this is going to be a lifelong relationship and not just an Olympic year and then. We wanted partners who wanted to work with us because they loved me and what I stood for and hopefully, we felt the same way.”
In hindsight, she points to the fact that she was thrust into the spotlight at an early age as one of the reasons why she was able to navigate the next six years of her life with patience that paid off in these kinds of deals.
“It was really just the basic day-to-day life changes that were so rattling. Just going to the grocery store and being stopped on every aisle to take pictures. It was a lifestyle change. At 17, and going into my senior year of high school, that was just something that was a big adjustment, but one that taught me a lot of responsibility and I’m really grateful for it.”
As to whether she will go back to swimming anytime soon, she seems pretty content on staying out of the pool for a little bit, but that doesn’t mean it will be forever.
“Ask me again in five or 10 years, but right now I I just want to use my time and energy in other areas.”
For now, it’s time to finish school (she’s set to graduate this fall), get married, and find the next thing on her to-do list.
Knowing Franklin, it will probably be something to do with trying to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.