Olympian Missy Franklin had the world at her feet following the London 2012 Olympics.
Her first order of business? Working on a degree.
Franklin ultimately chose Cal, but for reasons one would not expect.
The Golden Bear swim program has been home to some of America’s greatest swimmers from Dana Vollmer to Natalie Coughlin. However it was Cal's strong bond of team and its coach Teri McKeever, Franklin's coach on the national and Olympic teams, which pulled Franklin to Berkeley.“Choosing Cal had a lot of different factors,” Franklin said. “Because I swam with the national team I was exposed to a lot of collegiate coaches, a very unique experience compare to other NCAA athletes. And there was always something about Teri’s group. I was so jealous of them. She is hard to explain. With her the team is about so much more than swimming, she wants to teach us lessons that extend to our families and first jobs. She sees the big picture, knows swimming leads to so much more.”
McKeever prides her program on building strong women, not just strong swimmers.
“I wanted to be a teacher, and that is what I am,” McKeever said. “My classroom is a pool. For me, sports were a place I learned who I was. I had to accept my shortcomings and play to my strengths. These women are young and I enjoy walking alongside them while they walk this path. I do not want to direct them; I want to walk alongside them.”
The 2014 season marks McKeever’s 22nd year at Cal. While there, she has built a program with three national titles and many Pac-12 titles and records.
“I feel no pressure, because I built this legacy in my 22 years at Cal,” McKeever said. “I am proud that we have a legacy of women who represent themselves well everywhere, with each other and at every event.”
The legacy of strong women was one of the factors that attracted Franklin to Cal.
“I did not look at the successful athletes that came from certain programs, because success can be measured so differently,” Franklin said. “I looked at individuals that I wanted to be like. Everyone has a certain place where they will do well, I picked mine.”
Another Olympian and Cal swimmer was drawn to Cal because of the strong female legacy.Rachel Bootsma (left) was on the national team with Franklin during the London Games. Currently, Bootsma is in her sophomore year at Cal.
“From a young age I wanted to attend Cal,” Bootsma said. “I idolized Natalie [Coughlin] and looked up to Teri. I also grew up with a strong female mindset and I knew I wanted to swim for a female coach – whether it be the head or the assistant, and [at Cal] we have both. I was raised knowing anything males can do, females can too.”
And when Bootsma arrived in Berkeley, it all fell into place.
As a freshman, Bootsma became an NCAA champion, winning the 100-yard backstroke.
“To win it felt so incredible,” Bootsma said. “I have competed in a lot of big-time meets, but I have never been at something like the NCAAs.”
And it is starting to click for Franklin too.
“[College] is absolutely everything I expected and more,” Franklin explained. “I really miss home, and my parents, but my relationship with my teammates is incredible. We are 26 completely different women and together with Teri we have bonded. We all have such a high level of respect for one another.”
Both to McKeever and Franklin, respect is the most important quality in a teammate.
McKeever says, “They need to respect themselves, the process, their teammates, the institution and the sport. They need to do what they can to honor it.”
To Franklin the team must have respect because without it they could not work together or encourage each other.
“Teri wants us all to learn from each other,” Franklin said. “She preaches that everyone has something to offer.”
McKeever not only preaches respect for teammates, she practices it as well
“A senior can learn a lot from a freshman, a coach can learn a lot from an athlete,” she said. “Learning is ongoing to life, learning never stops, not age specific or gender specific.”
Bootsma and Franklin are learning a lot at this point in the season as competition begins to heat up and the NCAA championships get closer.
Next up for Cal is the Pac-12 championship beginning Feb. 26 and concluding March 1.
After conference championships comes the NCAA meet, held in Bootsma’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minn.
After everything is said and done, their goal is simple; “My goal this season – to be the best we can be at the end of March,” Franklin said.