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Missy Franklin puts Rio disappointment behind her, starts national learn-to-swim free program

By: JOE PAISLEY joe.paisley@gazette.com
October 17, 2016 Updated: October 17, 2016 at 7:32 pm
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photo - Olympc gold medalist Missy Franklin hugs kids at SafeSplash Swim School in Colorado Springs Monday, October 17, 2016. Franklin was in town to promote a program called "Ripples to Waves," a program to help more than 2,500 kids across the US learn to swim each year regardless of their ability to pay for lessons. The program is supported by SafeSplash and USA Swimming Foundation. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Olympc gold medalist Missy Franklin hugs kids at SafeSplash Swim School in Colorado Springs Monday, October 17, 2016. Franklin was in town to promote a program called "Ripples to Waves," a program to help more than 2,500 kids across the US learn to swim each year regardless of their ability to pay for lessons. The program is supported by SafeSplash and USA Swimming Foundation. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Missy Franklin's pain remains.

It's an ache that has faded somewhat over the past two months since the Rio Olympics.

The Colorado Olympian, who won five gold medals as a Regis Jesuit high school student at the 2012 London Olympics, struggled mightily in her second Summer Games, falling well short of expectations by garnering a single relay gold.

Her willingness to accept the disappointment without making excuses may have endeared the now 21-year-old Cal-Berkeley psychology major to swim fans even more.

She believes she is better for the experience.

"I learned who I am as a human, as a person and how strong I can be when I am being tested," she said Monday after a media conference announcing a new national learn-to-swim initiative. "It gave me the opportunity to be the person I said I want to be in difficult situations and that meant not making an excuse and being vulnerable and showing everyone that vulnerability because that is relatable.

"Everyone goes through times they were never expecting to have. "If you can stay true to yourself and who you are in those times, you will gain so much strength and so much wisdom, and I did."

The well-documented welcome home she received with almost 300 paper hearts placed on her family's front lawn with words of encouragement from fans, especially children, made it easier for Franklin to reach this level of acceptance only two months later.

"I had a feeling of so much love for Missy the human, not just the swimmer and knowing that what people put the importance on was how I was handling it and not the medals," she said. "I am getting there more and more every day. It was awful, but I know in 15, 20, 30 years from now I will look back on this differently."

The future is on Franklin's mind. The professional swimmer appeared with Matt Lane, CEO of the SafeSplash Swim Schools and USA Swimming Foundation executive director Debbie Hesse to announce the new Ripples to Waves program.

The partnership will give an additional 2,500 free swimming lessons to poor children in the U.S. and Canada who could not otherwise afford it. SafeSplash has 122 locations in the U.S., including northern Colorado Springs.

It is a much needed program, said Franklin, who is an equity partner and board member with the national franchise and an ambassador for the foundation. An estimated 8 million children in the U.S. cannot swim or afford lessons.

The partnership is an expansion of the foundation's Make a Splash Initiative that has taught 4 million children how to swim since 2007 thanks to $4 million in grants. Hesse hopes Ripples to Waves grows so that 1 million children will receive lessons annually through Make a Spash.

Parents can apply online at safesplash.com starting Nov. 1 with lessons beginning in 2017.

"Safety should not be a privilege," Franklin said. "Safety should be a right for every child in our country. With this program, we are all making steps toward that."

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