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Missy Franklin shaken by Colorado theater attack near her home

The Olympic swimmer, who attends school in Aurora, says that 'all of my races are dedicated back home to Colorado.'

July 26, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • Missy Franklin during a training session at the Aquatics Center at Olympic Park
Missy Franklin during a training session at the Aquatics Center at Olympic… (Barbara Walton / EPA )

LONDON -- The news came first on Twitter, mixed into a stream of updates on the social lives of her friends and teammates.

Back home, half a world away, a movie theater had turned into a killing field.

Missy Franklin goes to high school in Aurora, Colo. One of her best friends had talked excitedly for weeks about hitting the midnight opening of the new Batman movie.

For a few hours on July 20, Franklin was not the breakout star of the U.S. women's swim team. She was a panicked teenager, in the American training camp in France, texting with her mother in Colorado and trying to figure out whether her friend was safe, whether she knew anyone who had been killed.

PHOTOS: Missy Franklin

Twelve people had, at one theater in Aurora. Her friend, it turned out, had gone to a theater elsewhere in town. Everyone she knew was safe.

In the days before the biggest swims of her young life, at a time coaches advise tuning out the outside world, hometown tragedy is at the forefront of Franklin's mind.

"It's such a terrible thing," she said Thursday. "I'm still shaken by it."

Teri McKeever, coach of the U.S. team, did not know about the shootings until Franklin's father texted that his daughter was waiting anxiously to hear from her friends. To McKeever, he sounded overwhelmed, separated from his daughter by an ocean.

McKeever rushed down the hall to comfort Franklin, to lend an ear and a hug.

"I just knocked on the door and asked how she was doing," McKeever said. "We talked about when you grow up that you see more and more hard things. That's kind of what sucks sometimes about growing up."

In the meantime, Franklin relied on her mother to relay news, even as the clock approached 3 a.m. in Colorado.

"I was absolutely horrified," Franklin said. "It was just so senseless."

In Colorado, this summer has been a brutal one. The state caught fire last month, with the largest of several wildfires forcing some U.S. swimming staffers to return home from the Olympic trials as flames threatened their homes.

Then came the Aurora massacre. The funerals started Wednesday. The suspect returns to court next Monday. In between, Franklin will make her Olympic debut, in the hope of performing well enough to provide "a little bit of fun" amid Colorado's dark days.

"This is Missy Franklin's moment. And for Missy to take time to think about her hometown and how she can help in its healing is an incredible statement about her character," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said in a statement to The Times.

"It certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that Missy cares and will be thinking about us as she takes the international stage."

Franklin could win as many as seven medals, yet she said she planned no tribute to the Aurora victims from the medal stand.

They deserve to be honored, Franklin said, whatever the results of her races.

"Right now, all of my races are dedicated back home to Colorado," she said. "No matter how well I do, I'm going to give my best in every single race, and every single race, I'm going to have that Colorado incident on my mind.

"They're in my thoughts through this entire process."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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