Often, books on athletes reveal little new information. They compile previously reported anecdotes and quotes into a life story.
But in Missy Franklin‘s “Relentless Spirit,” even the biggest fan of the affable champion will learn something. Franklin said she took inspiration from other books, specifically naming Natalie Coughlin‘s “Golden Girl” from 2006.
“If it came up, and we felt like it needed to be shared, and it was us being honest, then it went in,” Franklin said, adding that the toughest inclusions were not about her story, but her parents’ childhoods.
Even after Franklin struggled in Rio, there were no reservations about sharing that honesty in the final chapters of her book.
“We laughed about it,” Franklin said, laughing. “We said, OK, well, obviously it didn’t go too great this summer, but it’s going to make for a better ending. Probably going to sell more books because of it. It’s kind of interesting, because it has more meaning to it.”
The book’s title includes one of Franklin’s favorite words. “Relentless” has been written on her goggle straps and wrist at meets.
“I feel like people don’t really think that’s a word that represents me, because they see me as this really bubbly, outgoing, happy person,” Franklin said. “Relentless is this really intimidating, kind of ferocious word. But that’s how I am when I compete. So I like writing that somewhere I can see it to remind myself it’s OK to be happy, have fun and enjoy yourself, but at the same time, this is go time.”
But that’s not what she wrote at the Olympics.
For Rio, a sports psychologist asked Franklin how much she felt she had to give.
Franklin, already down from a poor Olympic Trials, said 10 percent out of 100. So she wrote “10 percent” on her foot, hoping to give 100 percent of her 10 percent in her swims.
Here are five of the most interesting takeaways from the book:
1. Garbage Cookies
After Franklin decided to swim her last high school season in 2012-13, a mother of a swimmer she knew from a rival high school sent Franklin’s mom cookies and a Merry Christmas card. The note read, “We hope you’ll convince Missy NOT to swim with the team so that the other girls will have their chance to shine.”
The cookies were thrown in the garbage, and Franklin swam for Regis Jesuit in Colorado that senior year.
2. Missy’s Metal Rod
When Franklin suffered her back spasms in 2014, her massage therapist said it felt like there was a metal rod in her back and had never felt anything like it. Franklin had rated the pain a 10 on a scale of one to 10.
Franklin’s father, Richard, wrote, “I caught myself thinking her career might be over.”
Franklin later learned she had a minor case of scoliosis that caused irritable facet syndrome (aka the spasms).
3. Leaving Cal for Colorado
One of Franklin’s toughest times was breaking the news to her college coach, Teri McKeever, that Franklin was leaving McKeever’s group to return to her longtime hometown coach, Todd Schmitz, in 2015. Franklin chose to do this in person and rehearsed the conversation before setting up the meeting.
“Everyone would have been able to see through it if I wrote, oh, I talked to Teri about this, and it was great and fun and everybody was happy and went home,” Franklin said. “I can’t even imagine how much turmoil, how much change, how much I put [McKeever] through. I wanted to make sure that was evident [in the book].”
When Franklin sent McKeever a note to request a meeting, McKeever told Franklin she was free for a phone call five minutes later. Franklin didn’t know what to do, so she called McKeever and told her about leaving.
“And what came back [from McKeever on the phone],” Franklin wrote, “well, it was more than I expected.”
Franklin’s mother, D.A., added, “There’s so much that gets lost over the telephone, especially when you’re delivering a difficult piece of news. The emotions are lost, or bent out of shape. You can’t really get a good read on the other person. And Missy just felt awful about it.”
Franklin wrote that “tension and uncertainty” followed her around the pool after she told McKeever she was leaving in January 2015 through the NCAA Championships that March.
Franklin’s father said he sometimes questioned “why Missy wasn’t swimming backstroke” at the University of California. Franklin’s best stroke was backstroke, but she was often put in other races, even distance freestyles, to maximize her skill for the sake of the team. Franklin and her dad both wrote that they understood those event decisions.
“I believed that a lot of what Missy was being asked to do really wasn’t in her best interests, but she never questioned it. In fact, she loved it,” Richard wrote. “She was team-first, all the way. And I don’t set this out as a criticism of Teri McKeever, not at all. It’s just that Teri’s agenda, as head coach of Cal swimming, was to win meets and keep that top three ranking and get to a national championship.”
4. Rio Relay
One of the signs of Franklin’s struggles in Rio was the decision by U.S. coaches to leave her off the 4x200m freestyle relay final quartet.
Normally, the top two 200m free finishers from the Olympic Trials are guaranteed spots in that final, but Franklin was left off in favor off Katie Ledecky, Leah Smith and Allison Schmitt, the other top finishers from Trials, and Maya DiRado, who didn’t swim the 200m free at Trials.
Franklin wrote that one of the U.S. coaches, Stanford’s Greg Meehan, gave her the option of sitting out the morning prelims.
She would have a spot waiting for her in the final, unless the morning swimmers performed better than her individual 200m free times. Franklin didn’t want to risk not being on the relay at all, so she told Meehan that she wanted to swim in the morning but that she would be fine with whatever the coaches decided.
Schmitt was faster than Franklin in the 4x200m free relay prelims, while DiRado was strong in her individual events in Rio — both individual medleys up to that point.
After the prelims, USA Swimming National Team Director Frank Busch broke the news to Franklin.
“Frank Busch told me he wished things were different, but that this was the lineup he and his coaches thought gave us the best chance to win,” Franklin wrote. “Basically, he said all the right things.”
5. New Tattoo
After the Olympics, the Colorado native inked her second tattoo — a Rocky Mountain vista on her side.
“These mountains remind me that wherever I go, as long as I live with intention and purpose, I am home — and that, even in struggle, God is with me, always,” Franklin wrote.
Her first tattoo was of the Olympic rings after the 2012 London Games.Follow @nzaccardi