Last summer, Missy Franklin put smiles on the faces of millions of Americans as she swam to five medals at the London Olympic Games. Last week, the 17-year-old high school senior was only concerned with doing so for about a dozen kids.
The kids, all patients at Children’s Hospital of Littleton, received a special visit from the four-time gold medal winner March 7. Franklin took time with each of them individually, posing for pictures, sharing stories and telling and listening to jokes. She also let each of them try on one of her gold medals.
Prior to spending one-on-one time with them, America’s fastest young swimmer told them as a group what it was like chasing after her goals, achieving her first world record at the Olympics, making the infamous “Call Me Maybe” video, balancing her studies and practice — and yes, meeting Justin Bieber.
She also shared stories of enduring with the kids that she hoped would leave a lasting impression. Telling them about missing out on the medal podium by a hundredth of a second in the 200 freestyle, she talked about coming back strong.
“That was a really good lesson for me,” she said. “As much as I wanted to be on that stand and as much as that one-hundredth hurt, I knew that I had to leave that race behind me and that I had to get up and come back the next day.”
In Franklin’s next individual event, the 200 backstroke, she wound up claiming her first world record.
That lesson of not giving up, but instead digging deeper, was just one of the many she shared with the kids. Franklin also told them not to be afraid to ask for help, that it actually makes you stronger, not weaker, to rely on somebody else’s assistance.
Emma Bruxvoort, 14, of Littleton, has had to get used to asking for help since she was diagnosed a year ago with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Before she initially got sick in 2010, she competed regularly in triathlons. She for one was thrilled to have Franklin visit.
“It’s pretty cool,” Emma said of the visit. “I’ve never really met a famous athlete before, and it’s kind of inspirational to see how she’s grown. … It was nice that she would come and take her time off to talk to kids like us, going through hard times.”
And while many of the kids talked about what an inspiration Franklin was to them over the past year-plus, there was no question that inspiration works both ways.
“It’s just incredible to see these people who have been through so much and still have such a big smile on their faces,” Franklin said of the kids. “They have just gone through so much and overcome all odds.
“When I sit back and think about what they’ve been able to accomplish and to push through, it honestly makes what I’ve done just completely minuscule.”