LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 30: (L-R) Missy Franklin of the United States, Federica Pellegrini of Italy and Melania Costa Schmid of Spain dive in the pool as they compete in the second semifinal heat of Women’s 200m Freestyle on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 30, 2012 in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
July 20, 2012 is a date that will forever be engraved in our hearts and minds. Late that evening in Aurora, Colorado a young man went on a shooting rampage in a movie theater, killing a dozen people and injuring so many more.
Thousand of miles away a young woman by the name of Missy Franklin was in London, England preparing for the 2012 Olympics. Seventeen-year old Franklin attends high school in Aurora, and when news broke about the massacre, Franklin’s thoughts were fixated on her hometown.
Who can blame her? What should have been the most incredible two weeks of her life was overshadowed, for a moment, by tragedy. Colorado has had its fair share of disaster over the last two months, beginning with wildfires that spread across the state.
In the midst of these tragedies the excitement of the Olympics has given Americans a reprieve. But hasn’t it always been this way? Not just for Americans, but for the entire world. There is something unifying about sports; something that intrinsically bonds humanity. For a little while, nations put aside any civil unrest and cheer on their country’s best athletes.
Franklin’s hometown was given more than just someone to cheer for. Every time Missy jumped into the pool, Aurora natives were doused with the tenacity of someone who wanted to give hope to their hurting town.
So what is it which makes sports so special? What gives them the power to heal, the power to unify?
We’ve seen this before. From the calamity of 9/11 to tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in Haiti, nations have used sports to raise money, and awareness, of social issues, weather disasters, violence and injustice. In America, we have seen college and professional teams, even individuals, play their best games after a disaster. It is as if athletes need to prove that no amount of negativity, no misfortune and no catastrophe can stop them from giving their all.
Franklin is no different. Her three medals thus far have brought an immense amount of pride and joy, a much-needed distraction from the horrific events of July 20. In just 11 days, a teenager has become the face of a town, a household name, an Olympic medalist and a giver of hope.