Q&A with Missy Franklin: Olympic Gold Medalist and Healthy Swimming Champion
Between swim practice, competitive meets, and college courses, we caught up with five-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin for her tips on keeping swimming healthy, safe, and fun.
CDC: At only 19 years old, you have five Olympic medals (four gold!), one world record, and two American records—and we're sure there are more accomplishments to come. Swimming is obviously your sport! Were you always a swimmer?
Missy Franklin: I have always had an affinity for the water. I should have been born a mermaid! I started snorkeling when I was 2 years old and loved to follow beautiful fish. At 5, I asked to join the neighborhood swim team because it looked like so much fun. I played other sports but eliminated them one by one to focus more on my swimming. At over 6' 1" tall with size 13 feet, I think my body was designed for swimming! My dad teases me that I have my own built-in swim fins. I love swimming so much, and it has made me who I am today.
CDC: How much time do you spend training, and what are your practices like? Do you do other activities, too?
Missy Franklin: I'm in the pool 2-4 hours a day for 6-8 workouts a week. Training is very difficult with the amount of time we put in every week and how hard the practices are, but our coach at the University of California in Berkeley has a way of making it fun. We do a lot of different things, not just swimming back and forth for hours a day. My favorite type of workouts are called "lactate sets," where you do all-out effort swims after having a lot of rest like at a swim meet. I have an incredible team, and every athlete will say that when you have incredible people surrounding you, it always makes practices easier. After every practice, I drink chocolate milk—it's amazing for recovery.
I obviously love to swim, but I love doing different things outside of the water as well, like yoga, pilates, and dancing. I dance just about everywhere, from the pool deck to the grocery store aisles!
CDC: With all that time in the pool, you surely have tips on keeping yourself and others healthy and safe in the water. Please share!
Missy Franklin: Swimmers need to work together to keep ourselves clean and our pool healthy. That means showering. Taking a shower before and after swimming will help both the water quality and your skin. It's the worst when your eyes get red and stingy and nose runs during a swim—that's the chlorine mixing with the stuff that washes off your body into the water, so it's important to shower before you get into the pool and not just after.
You can also help stay safe by learning to swim. My mom had me in the water when I was very young—mostly because she was afraid of the water and wanted to make sure I would be comfortable with it. Everyone learns in their own way, so take your time and learn in a way that makes you feel safe. Also, never swim alone. We always need someone looking out for us. Even when I'm in the pool 20-30 hours a week, I always have a coach, teammate, or lifeguard watching out in case something was to happen.
CDC: What about those of us who aren't cut out to be an Olympic swimmer? How can we get the benefits of swimming?
Missy Franklin: You don't need to swim very far or for very long. Start easy and work your way up. I always stretch before I get into the water and take a nice, slow swim before getting into any of the hard stuff.
Swimming is great for all kinds of people. It's a good way to get regular physical activity, is low-impact and easy on joints, helps reduce the risk of chronic illness, and can even improve mood—oh, and it's fun! It can even be helpful for people with disabilities. I had the opportunity to work on a documentary called "The Current" about disabled athletes using water-based sports to heal and thrive, which was very rewarding.
Swimming brings me so much joy, and I love to help people do it in a healthy and safe way!