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Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin: Jesuit schooling brought God to life

Missy Franklin swims a 1.55:79 in preliminaries for the women's 200-meter freestyle during the USA Swimming Nationals at William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Complex. Photo courtesy of Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports/File photo, via Reuters

(RNS) A lot has changed since Missy Franklin earned four gold medals, a bronze and the title of “one of America’s new sweethearts” at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London:

The swimming champ started college at Berkeley (and took a year off to prepare for the Rio Games), reunited with an old swim coach and went professional.

She also has considered converting to Catholicism.


RELATED: Catholic faith anchors Katie Ledecky


Franklin won a gold medal as part of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, but she failed to make the final of either the 200 freestyle or the 200 backstroke.

She has expressed disappointment with her performance at the games, saying she felt like David facing Goliath without any rocks and posting on social media, “Trusting in the Lord that something BEAUTIFUL will come out of this, and that I will come back stronger than ever!”

Franklin, 21, along with her U.S. Olympic teammate Clark Smith, graduated from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. The school, she told Catholic News Service, “brought God and so much meaning into my life.”

She told CNS after the London Games that she was Protestant but considering converting to Catholicism. Growing up, she said, “my faith was not a very big aspect of my life.”

In an interview with Beliefnet before the games, she said her family occasionally attended church services, where she felt “uncomfortable and self-conscious.” But when she first walked into Regis, she said, she felt peace.

“Taking my first theology classes, going to my first Masses, going on my first retreats, I began to realize how important God is in my life and how much I love him and need him,” she told CNS.

Going into the London Games, she said she talks with God before, during and after practice and competitions, praying to him for guidance, thanking him for the talent he has given her and promising to be a positive role model for young athletes.

It’s unclear where Franklin now worships, but she told NBC she volunteers with her church’s children’s ministry.

She recently retweeted a photo posted online by coach David Marsh showing Protestant evangelical Louie Giglio with several members of the U.S. women’s Olympic swim team after leading them in devotions. Giglio is pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Movement, which includes a record label and conferences aimed at college-age Christians.

“Thank you to for leading our devotional tonight. ‘Compete -from acceptance not -for acceptance…'” the caption read.

She also has shared photos on Instagram of spending a “raging” 21st birthday swimming and studying the Bible and of her Bible journaling, coloring mountains and curly letters in the margins of Isaiah 54:10: “Though the mountains may crumble, you will not.”

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A photo posted by Missy Franklin (@missyfranklin88) on

And she shared one other tidbit swimming has taught her about faith — and her long, thick hair.

“I always just say God knew I was going to be a swimmer and gave me the hair for it. I don’t know how my hair stays so healthy,” she told People Magazine, laughing.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

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  • Her sudden decline from 2012 is puzzling to many in the swimming community. She is still a first rate swimmer, but her enormous promise hasn’t been fulfilled. The expectation was that Franklin and Ledecky would own the pool in Rio. Not so with Franklin only qualifying for 2 events.

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