Golden girl Missy lifts US massacre town

A bloody movie theater massacre cast a shadow over this corner of Colorado, but the golden Olympic performance of local teenager Missy Franklin has proved a light in the darkness.

The 17-year-old high school senior with her open smile was a minor local star before she set off for her first Olympic Games in London, but she has since set the swimming world alight and cheered the mood in her US hometown.

Franklin attends high school in Aurora, the town where earlier this month a crazed gunman opened fire at a midnight showing of a new Batman film and killed 12 moviegoers, and lives in nearby Centennial, where he is on trial.

She heard about the shootings in London, where she was preparing for the event of her young life, and spoke from the heart.

"Every single race I'm going to have that Colorado incident back on my mind. It's such a terrible thing and I'm so shaken by it. They're in my thoughts this entire process," she said.

Shaken, perhaps, but not defeated.

Franklin chalked up a bronze medal in the four by 200-meter freestyle relay and won gold in the 100-meter backstroke, despite racing only 15 minutes after qualifying for the finals in the 200-meter freestyle.

And she has more races to come.

"With everything that's been going on here lately, the wildfires and the shootings in Aurora, it's really special," said Tom Suko, 27, a cashier at a sporting goods store near Franklin's home in the Denver suburbs.

"These people can use someone to rally around," he said. "She's a great story and someone a community can be proud of."

This summer, thousands of Colorado residents were displaced by raging wildfires that blackened acres and destroyed suburban homes. Then came the shootings, which stunned the community and left 58 injured.

Many tried to offer comfort, but the local swim star has lifted hearts.

"With Missy, there's no pretense," said John Koslosky, athletic director at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, where Franklin will return to register for classes the day after she returns from Britain.

"The fact is that our school is in Aurora, and she has so many friends tied to Aurora and she grew up this area," Koslosky said, "It's not contrived. No one has to say to her: 'That'd be cool.' It comes from her heart."

Franklin's success, and her message, are the talk of the area.

"I'm so proud of her," said real estate agent Kari Kline outside a cafe. "Just to step out of the Olympics and make comments about it -- to take the time to do that, because she has a lot on her mind."

Elise Peterson, a 20-year-old student at the University of Colorado, once competed against "Missile Missy" at swim meets between Franklin's Regis High School and her own Littleton High School.

"I'm only 5'2". She was on the block next to me. It was daunting because she's so tall. At the same time, she was so sweet. I wasn't scared to swim against her," she said.

"It's so fun to watch her and know I've been in the same pool with her."

Peterson said it's great to see Franklin attracting fans who never knew about her, and are now planning their days around watching her swim.

The most impressive part of Missy is her smile, Kline said. "It's infectious and it's real."

Koslosky said Franklin frequently hangs out in his office. Earlier this year, he asked her for a picture to put up on the school's permanent Wall of Fame. Franklin demurred until the braces were off her teeth.

"She's a teenage kid. I totally understand. Now, that her braces are off, I think there'll be plenty of pictures to put up," Koslosky said.

Mike Freitag, director of coaching for Colorado Youth Soccer, said it's good to see someone from Colorado who represents her sport at a world class level in such an assured and dignified way.

"She stayed here in Colorado. She didn't go to California or elsewhere to train," Freitag said.

Franklin has turned down money so she can still swim for her high school team. She also hopes to become a collegiate swimmer.

"I think that's pretty cool. We don't know her, but the way she presents herself on TV and in the pool is class," Freitag added. 

"She's adorable and so positive. She's a great role model for young girls," said church secretary Cindy Maris.

One of those girls is 13-year-old Katie Vanberthuysen, whose brother went to school with Franklin.

She's impressed by her grueling training regime: up at 4:30am, two hours in the pool before school and then five hours of training after classes

"It's inspired me to try to go to the Olympics when I'm older," said Vanberthuysen, who plays volleyball. "I think she's the next Michael Phelps."

 

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