There is a new darling of each Olympics. For me, this started in 1972 as I watched the little pixie Olga Korbut stub her toe on an uneven bars routine. Sure, mistakes happen but what followed was unfathomable. This tiny wisp of a gymnast, seemingly able to leap tall buildings in a single pointed-foot bound, did something that took the world by surprise- she cried. A Russian showed emotion! All that propoganda that we’d been fed about Russians having a heart as cold as Siberia, melted the world’s perception with a single tear.

With Nadia, the iron curtain went back up. Zola Bud was a barefoot running African (Caucasian at that!) who made American darling Mary Decker crash and cry, swimmer Shirley Babashoff was cheated gold by steroided East Germans in the water, Katarina Witt skated circles around her competitors with the timeless gorgeousness of Grace Kelly, gymnast Mary Lou Retton blinded us with her elite skills and dazzling smile and Lindsey Vonn looked like a super model yet tore up the slopes with the rath of an ferocious tiger. The list of amazing, noteworthy female athletes goes on.

Fast forward to London 2012. Enter Missy Franklin. At 6’1″, Missy could be mistaken for any number of elite female athletes- basketball, rower, volleyball- but no- Missy is a swimmer. That is as big understatement as saying the world is having a financial blip. In a world where Divas- male and female- are a frequent occurance, Missy is our breath of fresh air. She has an attitude with altitude. Above all the sniping, above all the attention getting dramatics. Having a few decades added to my teenhood, I should be done with my athletic “crushes” yet I’ll make an exception for Missy. Here’s what I love about her.

1.Missy is from Colorado. What swimmer is from Colorado? And has the fortitude to stay here. When I was competing, the big dream was to be sent to Mission Viejo, California. Texas has also become a big state for training in swimming yet Missy chooses to stay at Mile High where she was born and raised. Sure the altitude gives her a natural blood doping advantage however she remains in Colorado because this is where her friends are. At a time our state is being pummeled with negative attention from wildfires and the Aurora shooting, Missy brings hope and light to us.

Regis Jesuit High School

2. Missy attends Regis Jesuit High School. Both my stepkids graduated from that school- just about 7 miles down the road. Although I’m not Catholic, I do believe in investing in the best education your money can buy. In my opinion, that’s Regis. It’s a caring community of teachers, clergy and families that participate in a full education. Because parents have had a pay a pretty penny to have their children attend, they take a personal interest in making sure that investment isn’t squandered. Teachers can focus on what they do best, teaching versus trying to manage the disciplinary problems. The school instills service above self so develops a community minded graduate. Missy is an honor student who wants to swim with her teammates and bring honor to a higher power. I believe this is what also allows her to stay humble.

3. Missy is a swimmer. I was a swimmer and can relate to the cerebral nature of the sport. So many hours breathing chlorine, early practises, insatiable hunger after practise, sitting on hard metal benches waiting for your next race, frozen hair in the winter, dry skin and hair, all for what? Comraderie, the feeling of knifing through water, faster times, the win. I soooo get it! Who pays attention to swimming when it isn’t an Olympic year? Yet now, it is a golden ticket. Even her parents have to sit 30 rows up and higher in the stands during her events.

4. Missy is a backstroker. This is my favorite stroke and it thrills me to see her windmill her way through the water. This is the only sport you can win by going backwards! The hours she has had to spend looking at the lines on the pools ceilings are all too familiar. She is fortunate that the sport has evolved to allow you to flip over to your stomach for the turn. It used to be sit and spin. Backstrokers are also the lead on the relay so we never have anyone else to blame if we get behind. It’s all on us to get the lead early on. A secret about backstrokers is they can rarely swim breaststroke well and vice versa.

5. Missy is tall. At 6’1″ she can see head and shoulders above most- male and female. When I was young, my mother told me that I would be tall and to be proud of my height. At a mere 5’8 1/2″, I am a relative shrinky dink in her world yet I get the mantel of responsibility she wears. You can never blend in the crowd. I feel her pain as she tries on women’s pants to try to find ones long enough. My inseam is a 33″ and yet you would think that it was 40″. Highwaters are such a frequent option that I finally started to wear dresses and skirts out of default.And finding a boyfriend tall enough may be a challenge. Many taller guys seem to go for the petite girls. But being an elite athlete, this will give her good access to basketball and volleyball players as well as rowers, swimmers and other non vertically challenged body types. I advise shopping at Nordstrom for quality shoes and pants to fit those elongated limbs as well as buying clothes in countries that have taller population like Germany and Holland.

6. Missy has a great relationship with her parents. I read that it took 25 years for her parents to conceive her so this wunderkind is a treasured child. They have been there every step of the way for her in her swimming career. When she showed early promise in the sport, they nurtured it versus lamenting the missed vacations and hours spent on hard benches in a damp, humid pool environment. They have gifted her with one of the most important things a person can have, a strong foundation.

7. Missy has a beautiful smile and isn’t afraid to use it. While many other competitors prefer to wear the iron mask of a toughness, Missy seems to be enjoying herself at any given moment. Although a very attractive girl, Missy doesn’t spend a lot of time posing in front the camera. Most pictures you will see of her are candid and naturally capture the glow that radiates from within.

8. Missy has focus. Here is a girl who one moment may be laughing it up and sharing a joke with her competition. Yet when it’s gametime, she is able to flip the switch and get to business. She doesn’t appear to be rattled by all the attention that has been put on her and just takes one race at a time. Watching her qualify for the 200 meter freestyle, jump out of the pool then go warmdown before her gold medal winning performance in less than 20 minutes was like watching a master. She barely seemed out of breath from her first race and she seemed light hearted before the second. As Michael Phelps said, “My swimming speaks for itself.” So does Missy’s.

9. Missy wants to have fun. That doesn’t mean going out and partying with her friends, or getting tattooed up. She seems to embrace each moment as it is given to her and doesn’t take things out of context. Granted, I’ve never been around her during a typical teenage drama time like a bad hair day or pimple outbreak, but somehow I can imagine she is able to take these things into perspective. She seems light years more mature than her age.

10. Missy is American! How great is it to have such a superstar from our country. Missy is such a breath of fresh air. Here’s to someone who won’t shrug off the responsibility of being a role model. She has a lot to teach those her own age, fellow athletes and the rest of us. Whether she wins more medals or not, she has already shown herself to be a champion in the human race of life. Go Missy Go!