BERKELEY (AP) — Missy Franklin strolled into the room at Memorial Stadium and offered a cheery, “Hi, everybody!”
She has moved into a dorm, hit it off with her new roommate and even cried her eyes out when she said goodbye to her mother.
“It feels like home already,” a beaming Franklin said Wednesday.
Yet she is far from a typical 18-year-old college freshman beginning the first day of her fall semester Thursday.
The four-time swimming gold medalist at last summer’s London Olympics, Franklin’s mere presence at California has caused quite a stir, a positive one — from fellow students asking her to pose for photos, to carefully watching where she goes and what she Tweets and taking into account how her arrival affects teammates who must adjust to swimming laps alongside one of the sport’s biggest international stars day in and day out.
Coach Teri McKeever and Franklin have planned for it all.
Each believes Berkeley is the perfect place for Franklin to find a new “normal” — albeit a high-profile existence that has McKeever just slightly on edge. There have been conversations with police and campus security, and guidance on how to deal with harassment. The coach will talk to her student-athletes about being cautious to keep everybody safe and protect Franklin’s privacy.
Franklin said she and her parents have thought about and discussed many possible scenarios and what she could face being away from her home in Centennial, Colo., in a college town for the first time. Steering clear of peer pressures, parties, all of that.
“There’s so many things we have to consider and have to think about. My parents have taught me so well,” Franklin said. “We’re very aware of everything I think we need to be aware of. I feel very confident going to school and starting this new experience. I still feel that even though there might be that microscope, I can still have as normal of a college experience as I can. It’s not limiting for me.”
McKeever has been at this long enough to be a realist. Yet she would rather look at Franklin’s arrival at Cal as “an incredible opportunity” rather than any kind of a burden, no matter how others feel.
“There are some people who don’t want to be Missy Franklin’s teammates ... or don’t want Teri McKeever as their coach,” she said. “I think some of her teammates are going to see it’s not fun to be Missy Franklin.”
Not that the ever-upbeat Franklin can be convinced of that. She learned in a hurry after winning four gold medals and a bronze in London that the attention would be relentless. She acknowledged “it definitely was a bit of a shock.”
Fresh off a record-setting world championships in Barcelona, Franklin is turning her attention to the books. Though she sure got a thrill from pulling on her new Cal swim cap for the first time this week. The Golden Bears will hold meetings through the weekend and are scheduled to work out in the pool for the first time Sept. 5.
“I had so much fun moving in. Honestly, it’s been awesome,” Franklin said. “A couple pictures here and there meeting new people but that’s just kind of what I’ve been used to, what I’ve been getting accustomed to in the past couple months since London. It’s definitely fun making new friends and so exciting.”
Remarkably poised and polished, even McKeever — who coached the U.S. women’s team at the Olympics — figures Franklin might have her tough moments at some point.
“I want to see her bad hair day. I haven’t seen it yet. My life as a 51-year-old tells me there are days you can’t be this happy, can’t be this put together,” McKeever said. “I think this community, this department, this team, the current team we have right now, are going to give her the greatest gift of her life — to be part of a team.”
When Franklin visited in January for parents’ weekend, she was in the pool before a Cal meet and looked up to McKeever and said, “I can’t believe I’m in the Cal pool, it’s been my dream to swim here.”
“I started laughing and said, ‘Yeah, my dream, too,’” McKeever said, laughing. “The interest and the attention has been enormous.”
When Franklin called McKeever last fall with the news she would come to Cal, the coach was so nervous she didn’t take the call, which came during the Big Game rivalry football matchup between Cal and Stanford.
Now, it’s all real.
Franklin surprised McKeever that day, and is showing her lighthearted side, too. She’s a jokester.
When asked about following other Cal swimming stars such as Natalie Coughlin and Nathan Adrian, she quickly asked, “Who are they?”
Franklin, sporting light-colored pastel floral pants, a navy blue Cal polo and sparkly pink slip-on shoes to go with her gold stick-on nails that withstand the chlorine, declined to give specifics of her class load except that she is taking basic prerequisites “with some fun, exciting classes to keep it exciting and a little bit lighter my first semester.”
“In terms of studying, I have absolutely no idea what I want to study, which is kind of really fun,” she said. “I’m taking classes that are all over the board.”
While Franklin is making a two-year commitment to Cal before likely turning pro and getting ready for the 2016 Rio Games, she still plans to finish college one day.
Reading one class syllabus, Franklin learned that exams make up 25 percent of her grade “so that kind of freaks me out a little bit.”
Everything about college life in Berkeley is new.
“You can kind of get used to seeing the fun, quirky people on the sidewalk,” Franklin said. “That’s one of my favorite things about Berkeley, it’s probably the most unique environment I’ve ever been in. There’s really nowhere else like it.”