MINNEAPOLIS - It was the moment she'd dreamed of since childhood. When Missy Franklin won her first gold medal in London on Monday, she said it almost didn't feel real.
"Just seeing that flag being raised was so just incredibly unbelievable," Franklin said.
And some say just as incredible is how she did it. While other swimmers never miss a day of training, Franklin takes weekends off, has refused to go pro, and is - in most ways - a typical high school junior who goes to prom, loves music and was thrilled when she got a tweet from Justin Bieber.
"Missy Franklin is living proof that there are many pathways to elite performance," said Nicole LaVoi, Ph.D, associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
That path has been paved by Franklin's coach, Todd Schmitz, a native North Dakotan whose creative workouts are designed to avoid burnout.
"She's got what it takes," Schmitz said of Franklin. "The train's going by and I'm enjoying the ride, and I think Missy is, too."
Franklin's parents kept her with Schmitz even when other programs called, saying they wanted her to always have fun.
"They're not pushing her, they're letting her enjoy the process," LaVoi said. "And I think many sports parents can learn from that."
And many athletes might, too. Some athletes training at the University of Minnesota already have dreams of the next Olympic Games but know getting there means finding balance and small successes on the way.
"It's just so many little things that add up to something like that," said University of Minnesota head swimming coach Kelly Kremer. "We focus on the little steps and not the end result, so to speak."
And even if that end result is not a gold medal, sports at all levels might be inspired by the thought both Schmitz and Franklin live by: A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer.
" I think the biggest lesson we can learn from Missy Franklin," said LaVoi, "Is that sports should be fun."
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