A few months ago, just before my profile of swimming wunderkind Missy Franklin was published, I asked her father what he expected his daughter’s life would be like after the Olympics. Dick Franklin shrugged his shoulders. He hadn’t given the idea much thought. You can bet it’s a topic of conversation now. When the 17-year-old returns home next week, she’ll find a world that’s vastly different from the one she left before the London Games. Four gold medals, two world records, and wall-to-wall coverage tend to do that for a person.
So what might change for her? In a word: everything.
Will she be able to drive to school alone? Can she eat out with her teenage friends? Can she go to a movie with her boyfriend? How will she handle the constant attention? It’s one thing when everyone at a pool wants your autograph. It’s entirely different when an entire mall wants it.
That was already becoming an issue earlier this year, when Missy was getting mobbed at swim meets across the state. It was frustrating for her parents, who worked hard to protect her but found that their ability to control situations receded with their daughter’s increased popularity. Still, most times, Missy could easily melt in with a crowd. One afternoon this past spring, I watched her study for the ACT at a restaurant near Regis Jesuit High School. No one noticed her.
Now? There’s no chance. Perhaps the biggest testament to her popularity is her Twitter account, @franklinmissy. In May, she had a few thousand followers. She now has nearly 350,000—or roughly 150,000 more followers than John Elway. In Colorado, if that doesn’t speak to the altered reality she now faces, then nothing does.