Remember Missy Franklin?
She was that wunderkid from the 2012 London games. She won like 55 gold medals or something, and the hearts and minds of every teenaged boy in America. Or at least those who are taller than 6’1″. By the way, she’s 17, and a senior in high school.
What did she do after the Olympics? Did she turn pro and take a big post-Olympics pay-out? Not exactly. She returned to high school, committed to swim for the University of California at Berkley, and began to try to live life normally. You know….normal high school stuff. Dates. Studying. Shopping. Swimming on the swim team.
Therein lies an issue for some folks.
Certain folks (namely the coach for Missy’s rival high school) are dismayed that an accomplished Olympian and world-class athlete would “lower themselves” to swim with “ordinary” high school kids. (For a great article about his, visit the Wall Street Journal’s website here)
Frankly, I don’t see the problem with it. In fact, were I a high school girl swimmer, I’d be pretty stoked to jump in next to Franklin. Would I know I was going to get beat? Of course. Would I try to swim my hardest and hope I could stay in the same zip code as her? Absolutely. I’d revel in it. I’d learn from it. I’d try to better myself because of it. And in a small dark part of my mind, I’d probably hope she cramped up and I could eek out a win so I could brag about it forever.
You know, triathlon is pretty similar to this. Almost every time we line up to race, we’re racing someone who is much faster than we are. We might be racing against some of the legendary professionals like Crowie or Rinny, or we might be racing against Tom, that much faster age-grouper from Des Moines. The fact of the matter is, though, for the vast majority of us, almost 100% of the time that we race, we won’t be the fastest. In most cases, someone will be FAR faster than we are.
Isn’t triathlon an individual pursuit? Aren’t we technically racing against ourselves? Sure, some folks are literally racing others for a podium or overall win. The majority of us are just racing against ourselves. Looking to get a faster time.
At the end of the day, how often do athletes get to say that they played their sport with some of the best of the best? How many kids out there played Pop Warner football, but never got to go against Peyton Manning? How many little girls were gymnasts but never competed with Mary Lou Retton? I think it’s cool that in our sport we can toe the line with folks who are stellar athletes. It’s pretty cool that I can say that I raced against Matty Reed or Andy Starkowicz. Of course they demolished me. But who cares? I think I’m a better athlete because of it.
And so should all those high school girls who get to race against Missy Franklin.