Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin inspires tragedy-hit Colorado

DENVER Wed Aug 1, 2012 11:49pm EDT

Missy Franklin of the U.S. celebrates after winning the women's 100m backstroke final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 30, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Missy Franklin of the U.S. celebrates after winning the women's 100m backstroke final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

DENVER (Reuters) - For a state that has seen a deadly movie theater shooting and devastating wildfires this summer, the performance of Colorado resident and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Missy Franklin has been one bright spot - in and out of the pool.

The 17-year-old Franklin, who has entered seven events in London, said it was "heartbreaking" to learn of the theater shooting in Aurora, where she attends high school, and that her thoughts were back home.

"The only thing I can do is go to the Olympics and hopefully make Colorado proud and find a little bit of light there now," Franklin told Reuters before the London games started.

So far, she has won three medals: an individual gold in the 100-meter backstroke, a team gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay and a bronze in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

Julie Austin, a resident of Franklin's hometown of Centennial, said the swimmer's accomplishments were "a good distraction" for a state in need of positive news after a gunman burst into a July 20 screening of the new "Batman" movie and killed 12 people and wounded 58 others.

"I think it's great and totally appropriate that when she's riding so high to give a shout-out to the people in Colorado," she said.

For Austin's 8-year-old daughter and competitive swimmer, Grace, it is all about Franklin's swimming.

"It just really clicks that we're both really good at the backstroke," Grace said of her newfound idol. "I find her really inspiring too."

That Franklin would use the world stage to reach out to people back home in the wake of the shooting and earlier deadly wildfires is no surprise to close friend and high school swimming teammate Abby Cutler.

"Missy is just so selfless and I am so proud of her," Cutler said. "I was worried, though, that this (the theater shootings) might distract her, but she's using her talents to shine some light on Colorado where it's been a tough summer."

Franklin and Cutler will be entering their final year this autumn at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, the Denver suburb where residents are struggling to cope with the movie theater massacre.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, who has been the public face of the tragedy at news conferences, funerals and hospital visits to wounded victims, said Franklin's mention of the people affected by the shootings was a welcome message.

"For Missy to take time in the midst of her finest moment to think about her hometown and how she can help in its healing is an incredible statement about her character," Hogan said.

"It certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that Missy cares, and we are proud of her achievements."

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)