In a world of celebrity values it’s nice to find an athlete with community values. Meet Missy Franklin. She’s the 17 year-old swimmer who won gold this week in the 100 meter backstroke.
She’s stayed with the same coach she’s had since she was seven years old, Todd Schmitz. And she trains at the same local swim club which doesn’t even have its own pool. She still competes for her high school, Regius Jesuit. She’s already turned down six-figures in prize money and endorsements just so she can swim in college—if she goes pro, she’d have to drop off her high school team and forget about swimming in college.
“I know, I know,” Franklin says, “it’s so much money. But I can’t put a price on friendship, on teammates, on community.”
I saw Missy Franklin interviewed at home in Centennial, Colorado, just outside Denver. Her parents were there, her mother making what Missy calls her “killer lasagna” for dinner. “I have the best parents in the world,” Missy said. “They have taught me to love with my whole heart, to be open, to be kind to everyone.”
Somehow this Olympic gold medalist learned from her parents that life is bigger than sports. That faith and family, friends and community are the prize—they’re not the things you sacrifice to “make it big.” That character matters most. If you win it all but lose your soul, what then?
In this culture sports looms huge. It can help young people develop into confident, well-rounded men and women who have learned some of the life’s most important lessons. And sports can become an end in itself, where winning and starring are the only goal, the pursuit of which justifies a life without time for family and friends, faith and community.
Sometimes when I talk to the parents of grade schoolers I get the sense that the pressure of sports-at-any-cost is already so great that they have given up any hope of a sane, balanced life for their child and the whole family. Missy’s parents, D.A. and Dick Franklin, prove that you can raise an Olympic champion with a soul of gold. That ought to be the goal of every parent of young athletes.