Words like “prodigy” and “phenom” get thrown around a lot when discussing young athletes, but in Missy Franklin’s case, those descriptive monikers can be legitimately used. Franklin started swimming at the age of five and by the age of 16 had broken two short course world records (200-meter backstroke and 4×100-meter medley relay).

Now with her first Olympic appearance squarely within sight, the 17-year old natural is hopeful that a trip to London later this summer will be part of a bigger purpose—to show the world what God has done in her life. In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Franklin talks about her commitment to excellence, how she discovered faith and how God helps her through some unique challenges:

Chad Bonham: At what point in your life did you decide to pursue your Olympic dream?

Missy Franklin won the 200m Backstroke at the 2011 FINA short course swimming World Cup in Berlin, Germany, with a world record time of 02:00:03 minutes. (AP Photo by Michael Sohn/Courtesy USA Swimming)

Missy Franklin: When I was twelve years old, Coach Todd Schmitz and I had our usual fall planning meeting. He asked me what my goals were for the year, and I said to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the summer. During that year, I qualified in three events and participated in the Olympic Trials in June 2008 when I was 13. I loved every second of this experience and knew that in 2012 I wanted to compete for a spot on the US Olympic Team. I have worked as hard as I can every day since then preparing for this June. Finals for Olympic Trials will be broadcast live on NBC every night from June 25 through July 2. I know my friends and family will be cheering for me.

Bonham: How did you get into swimming and what about the sport do you most appreciate and enjoy?

Franklin: My mom and I took a Mom and Me class when I was six months old. I guess I loved it and smiled at my mom underwater. Before I turned 3, I snorkeled in Maui and scared my mom to death when I tried to follow a beautiful fish out to sea. I started swimming competitively when I was five years old. My neighborhood, Heritage Greens, has a summer league team and we compete in the Rocky Mountain Swim League. We had so much fun, practicing, and playing every day at the pool. At meets, we set up tents, ate lots of great food, and played games between our events. I started year round swimming when I was seven with Coach Todd at Colorado Stars. I still swim for Stars with Coach Todd. I love swimming and enjoy every practice with my teammates. Travel meets are so much fun as we get to know each other better and become closer. It also is exciting developing friendships with swimmers from other teams from all over the country and the world. Besides all that, I just love the water. It is my element.

Bonham: What are some key principles that you’ve relied upon throughout your Olympic pursuit?

Missy Franklin (Photo by Michael Haaseth/NBC)

Franklin: Swimming is considered an individual sport and a lot of time is spent staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool. This requires dedication, and focus. In order to improve and stay at an elite level, there are sacrifices I choose to make. At the same time, I’m 16 and enjoy doing all the teenage activities and do need to make time for it. Although it would be much easier for me to be homeschooled, my friends are way too important. They help me keep the balance in my life. I really have a great life, a lot of fun, and the best friends and family in the world.

Bonham: Can you tell me about your faith journey?

Franklin: Religion was not important in my parents’ upbringing. Therefore I never had a church home. We occasionally attended a church service but I felt so uncomfortable and self-conscious as I didn’t know what was expected. Before my freshman year I visited Regis Jesuit High School. As I walked in the main door, I felt at peace and knew I belonged there. From that first moment, I knew God was with me. Every day over the last three years, my faith has grown. One of my favorite times is going to our beautiful school chapel and spending time with God. This year, I attended Kairos with my Regis Jesuit sisters and it changed my life forever. I now really work on keeping my faith strong.

Bonham: How has your faith in God specifically helped you deal with the challenges you’ve faced as an Olympic hopeful?

Missy Franklin (Photo courtesy of USA Swimming)

Franklin: God is always there for me. I talk with Him before, during and after practice and competitions. I pray to Him for guidance. I thank Him for this talent He has given me and promise to be a positive role model for young athletes in all sports.

Bonham: What are your expectations for what God might be doing collectively through the church at the Olympics?

Franklin: Once every four years, athletes, families, friends and fans come together from all over the world. I know God will be there and I hope many of the people there will also feel His presence. He will offer us the opportunity to appreciate and love our similarities and differences. It will be up to each of us to take away as little or as much as we want from London.

Read more about the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in the July issue of Charisma Magazine.

And check out Chad Bonham’s latest book Glory of the Games that features 18 past and present Olympians such as Shannon Miller, Tamika Catchings, Josh Davis, Ryan Hall, Dave Johnson and Kevin Durant discussing various biblical principles that have helped them succeed as elite international athletes.

You can also find a wealth of great information about the Olympics and the US Olympians by visiting NBCOlympics.com and TeamUSA.org including photos, videos, bios, news stories, results and much more!

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