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Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin pursues new passions after retiring

Known to the world as a record-breaking Olympic swimmer, Missy Franklin retired from the pool and created a new path beyond swimming, dedicated to family.

DENVER — She's known to the world as an Olympic swimmer with five gold medals, but to family and friends, Missy Franklin-Johnson is most famous for being a loving daughter, wife and mom to a beautiful baby girl.

Missy sat down with 9NEWS anchor Kim Christiansen to talk about how her life has changed since her first Olympic appearance at the 2012 London Games, followed by the 2016 Rio Olympics, a career-ending shoulder injury that led to her retirement and new beginnings with her family. 

> Watch the 9NEWS Originals: Missy Franklin story above

She said she doesn't consider coming out of retirement. Instead, she's focused on family.

She also represents the USA Swimming Foundation as an ambassador, advocating for mental health awareness.

Saving Lives Is Always in Season's national campaign also gets some of her time. That's an initiative to increase access to learn-to-swim programs as part of a nationwide effort to reduce drownings.

With so much to talk about in her life since she left behind the laps in the pool, here's more of the 9NEWS interview with Missy on the topics closest to her heart.

Parenthood & naming her baby

What's in a name? It's kismet, really.

"We wanted family names for our first, and nothing against our families, but we don’t have like a whole lot to work with," Missy said, laughing out loud.

But, she and her husband, Hayes, were able to find a way to connect their new daughter's name to family memories.

"In between Hayes and his older brother, my mother-in-law was pregnant with twins, and she lost one of the twins in utero and then gave birth to the second twin at 22 weeks and [the baby] died after a couple of hours," Missy said. "And her name was Sarah Kaitlyn – and so we named our daughter after his older sister that died. We wanted her legacy to live on within the family."

Baby Kaitlyn had a surprise of her own that would connect her to another family member – her grandfather.

"To have my daughter come four days late on the morning of my dad’s birthday and to know that forever they will share a birthday is so special," Missy said. "To know that he will always live on in our granddaughter in such a special way, that we will get to celebrate both of them every year, it just, it means so much."

Creating family memories

Swimming wasn't a part of Missy's parents' lives until she was born. Her mom was terrified of the water and never learned to swim.

Missy wanted to teach her daughter to be safe around water, so she enrolled Kaitlyn in swimming lessons. She and her husband, who competed in swimming for the University of Texas, happily jumped back into the pool.

"It was such a surreal, full-circle moment, ... to just be in the water with her, to see her smiling, to see her getting her ears wet and the water dumped over her head," Missy said.

She said it meant more to her than words could say – and it was even more special because she shared something with her daughter that was a big part of her young life.

"Just to have that moment with her, it meant so much to both of us," Missy said. "The pool felt very different. It was more meaningful in a way that a pool has never felt, being in it with our 6-month-old daughter helping her learn how to swim. It was so special.

As for her daughter's future, and whether she might follow her parents in a swimming career, Missy said that Kaitlyn will be whatever she wants to be.

"We're going to support that fully," she said. "If that's an athlete, if that's someone who wants to do theater, if she is brilliant and excels in school – whatever it is, we are going to support her 100%."

Honoring family

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a lot for everyone, including Missy's family. But in looking for a silver lining, she said the time gave her an opportunity to figure out what's really important in her life and what matters.

She found that it was a one-word answer: family.

"Any new parents, and parents in general, agree that having a baby just changes everything," she said.

"We just thought, what a gift for our daughter to grow up with her aunts and uncles and cousins," she said. "We wanted to give her that, and we wanted to give ourselves that, as well. So we've moved to Nashville and are adjusting there really, really well and just looking forward to my parents getting out there soon, hopefully."

Even after moving to Tennessee, Missy said she considers Colorado her home. 

"It will always be home," she said. "For me, leaving Colorado has been so hard, but I know it was the right thing for our family, and I know the right thing for our family is to have my mom and dad and I all together. So it will be very hard when they leave, as well, but I think we can always come back here."

Finding inspiration through challenges

We all have those people we aspire to be and who inspire us – and an Olympic gold medalist is no different.

"We see someone we can relate to, that’s been through something, that’s going through something, and to me, there’s so much power in that," Missy said.

"To have the Mikaela Shiffrins, the Simone Biles, be honest and raw and real and vulnerable, it helps every single person that looks up to them be raw and real and vulnerable, and that’s what we need right now," she said.

She said everyone knows how it feels to be disappointed, to feel like they're failing, to make a mistake – and that it's human nature to support one another. 

She spoke about another Colorado athlete, skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who bounced back from a disappointing Olympics in Beijing to win her fourth World Cup overall title.

"Mikaela Shiffrin was back on her first ski podium a couple of weeks ago, and that in and of itself to me is greater than a gold medal," she said. "Those are the wins that our culture, right now, doesn't necessarily celebrate quite as much that we should learn to celebrate more."

The love for what you’re doing doesn’t change whether you win or lose, she said.

"At the end of the day, whether you're winning or losing, your love for what you're doing doesn't change," she said, but then added, "Winning is definitely more fun than losing."

Swimming brought Missy joy, and that was why she continued to compete in the sport – a love for what she was doing.

"Every day, I jumped in a freezing cold pool," she said. "Yes, I had goals, but it was because I loved it and it brought me joy and that joy eventually led to my goals – which was an incredible journey to go on. And sometimes it didn’t lead me to those goals, which also was an incredible journey to go on, but it has just been one of the greatest teachers of my life, and I will forever be so thankful for the sport."

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