By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – If there’s one thing we’ve learned so far about Missy Franklin’s experience at Cal, it’s that winning four gold medals doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to ace your Psychology midterm.
The Cal freshman and decorated Olympic swimmer is – well, just that - a freshman. And that means she has had to adjust to the rigorous academic workload at Cal just like any other student that walks on to campus for the first time. Franklin is just a little more recognizable than most of those freshmen.
“In one of my discussions, I was talking about how nervous I was I was for this midterm, and someone else said, ‘How are you nervous for a midterm? You were in the Olympics’,” Franklin said last week as she prepared for the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday in Minneapolis. “Once you go to the Olympics, I think people sort of think you’re invincible after that. I can still fail my midterm. I still go through all the struggles of studying and keeping up with school, just like everyone else here.”
And it’s those struggles and challenges that Franklin sought out when she made her decision to come to Berkeley. She wanted to be as much as a normal college student as possible, whether it be as a member of Cal’s women’s swim team, in the classroom or in the campus community.
By all accounts, she’s getting that – for better or for worse.
“The academics, I wanted a school that was going to set me up well. It’s kicking my butt right now,” Franklin said. “I’ve always had my education as my first priority. School has been really, really difficult but I’ve loved that challenge. I love going to class every day and learning something new.”
The coursework may be challenging Franklin, but like most things, she appears to be up to the challenge. During halftime of a recent men’s basketball game, Franklin was among a large group of student-athletes honored for producing a 3.0 GPA or higher during the fall semester.
And as she paraded on to and off of the Haas Pavilion floor that night with her fellow student-athletes, there were no autograph-seekers hounding her or a sudden burst of Missy-Mania from the crowd. She was just another Cal student-athlete – just the way she wants it.
“It’s been very normal, for sure,” Franklin said. “Something I’ve always held really close to my heart is being able to live the normal life and making sure I get all those experiences in, and I absolutely have been. Honestly, I don’t get that recognized that much at all. It’s super-occasional. I seriously have to stop myself sometimes when people come up to me and say hi. I just forget sometimes how people know me. It slips my mind sometimes because I don’t even think about it.”
That being said, Franklin knows she is going to be the subject of extra attention – that’ll happen when you capture the heart and imagination of your country with a performance for the ages in the Olympics. Franklin strives to be happy and positive, and it’s sincere. But she still is an 18-year old freshman away from home for the first time, and admits it’s natural for there to be down times as well.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to always be happy and always be positive,” Franklin said. “That’s just the way I want to live my life. I think every freshman in college can attest to the fact that you’re not going to be happy all the time. I miss home so much. There are times when you have to allow yourself to say it’s OK to miss home. It’s OK to miss your family and miss your parents. There are regular stresses of your freshman year. Trying to balance being on this collegiate team with school and missing two weeks of class in a month and then coming back and trying to get on top of it again, missing friends – all that stuff.”
A major reason why normalcy has usually been the norm during Franklin’s freshman year is the environment surrounding her on her team. Franklin and head coach Teri McKeever already had a relationship from the 2012 Summer Olympics, when McKeever served as head coach of the U.S. team. Franklin also knew some of Cal’s other swimmers that have also competed at an elite international level.
Franklin said one of the reasons she decided to come to college rather than turning professional straight out of high school is because she wanted to be part of a college team. It appears that McKeever and associate head coach Kristen Cunnane have established the perfect team environment for Franklin.
“I think she’s in an environment where she feels supported, comfortable and safe,” McKeever said. “Missy is obviously an incredible athlete, but she’s just really grounded. She’s very coachable. I’m really enjoying how much of a student of the sport she is. She has a passion that is contagious.”
Franklin said she had no idea what she wanted to get her degree in when she arrived in Berkeley last August but now plans to major in Psychology with a minor in Disability Studies. She said her dream job is to one day become a Kindergarten teacher because of her love of kids.
“She has a personal ethic that if she is going to do something, she is going to do it to the best of her ability,” McKeever said. “Whether it’s working out, studying or a Secret Santa gift – she’s willing to prioritize what’s important. I don’t think a lot of 18-year olds are willing to do that. That’s why she’s achieved the things most 18-year olds haven’t.”