Impact 10:No. 3 Missy Franklin
In early December, a Cal freshman set a record in the 200-yard freestyle at Winter Nationals.
Of course, this was no ordinary swimmer, it was four-time Olympic gold medal winner Missy Franklin.
You can say this about Franklin: for all her maturity, poise and success, she has no interest in growing up too fast. She maintains a keen interest in experiencing the levels of competition than some Olympians might eschew for material glory; but Franklin chose to swim with her Regis Jesuit High School team and now in the NCAA before cashing in.
In some ways, it seems like we were just introduced to her. At the 2012 London Olympics, Franklin was just 17, with a wide smile and a little naivety. She dove off the blocks and into the record books, and has been accepting the accolades that come with it ever since.
This past October, she was named the Women's Sports Foundation's Sportswoman of the Year after winning a record six gold medals at the World Championships over the summer in Barcelona.
No doubt, all those gold medals would translate nicely into endorsement dollars. Yet, there is something refreshing about a kid who is measured enough to delay the payoff. With Olympic sports, the chance for gold, and the attention that comes with it, only comes along every four years. Franklin, however, said she wouldn't change her decision to swim at Cal.
"[It's been] everything and more," Franklin told us back in October. "If I had to make the decision to stay amateur again, I would make it 100 times over."
Her team is one of the best in the country, and not just because Franklin is on it.
"We have international swimmers from all around the world that have competed for their country in the Olympics," Franklin said. "A lot of people are surprised to know that I'm definitely not the fastest backstroker on my college team. It's a really different world. It's short course, it's not long course, so I'm being pushed in brand new ways, and I've never had this kind of competition in practice before and it's incredible."
As of this week, Franklin has over 369,000 Twitter followers even though she isn't a frequent tweeter, and the heart emoticons and flowery pink wallpaper are one of the dead giveaways that she's still just a teenager. There are also over 130,000 followers on Instagram.
Whether she is waiting by the pool at a meet with her teammates, or posing for a shot with a mound of sandy blond hair piled casually on top of her head, Franklin is engaging with her fans. She even holds fan mail parties with her pals, where they pull out some of the letters Franklin receives, being moved to giggles or empathy depending on the contents.
People also connect with Franklin. With her friendly smile and outgoing personality, she seems like the best friend you haven't met yet, a big sister down the hall in your dorm. You can almost hear her telling you to do the right thing.
Franklin is just that grounded. She is an only child, and incredibly close with her parents, Dick and D.A., who devotedly attend her meets. They were in their 40s when Missy came along, and the bond between the three is strong.
"We're making it cool to love your parents again," Missy told ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs this past summer.
This year, Franklin has a little more freedom. Her parents didn't move from their Colorado home to Berkeley, and Franklin now has to figure it all out on her own, starting with a major.
Her job is swimming for the foreseeable future. Franklin can wonder how many more Olympics are in her sights, when she might unlock those endorsements, long before another day job will come into play.
What we are seeing now is Franklin's beginning. Her true impact won't be known for years to come.