MESA, Ariz. Last month, Missy Franklin crossed yet another item off of her rapidly expanding to-do list by cavorting with dolphins.
About seven months earlier, she did the same while swimming with sharks.
The dolphins were found in the Bahamas, where the 17-year-old from Colorado was taking part in a documentary film to benefit the Make A Hero project.
The sharks she encountered were lurking at the Olympic pool in London, where Franklin became the darling of international swimming by winning four gold medals last summer.
And even though her sport is escorted out of the network-televised limelight and back into the unconditional embrace of its fan base every four years, Missys crossover popularity still seems to be escalating. With one of the most infectious personalities to hit the sports world in quite a while, the distance shes covered in the past year probably should be accessorized by a reality pinch.
Oh, my gosh ... yes, Franklin said after competing in three events during Friday nights finals at the Mesa edition of USA Swimmings Arena Grand Prix Series. Like sometimes I wake up and think, Did that just happen? It feels like a total dream, having all of these kids out here being so supportive. To have all of these people cheering for me before my race, its phenomenal.
It also could be difficult to finesse this avalanche of fame at such a young age. Being 17 is no hay ride under any circumstances. Mixing the trappings of celebrity and the realization that theres so much more to do as a swimmer can be daunting.
Its not been that much harder, Franklin said. The travel is the only thing thats been a little more difficult. But when I travel, Im doing the most fun and exciting things.
One weekend Ill be at the Golden Globes, and the following Monday Ill be taking a forensics test.
Now in the home stretch of her senior year in high school, Franklins series of wow moments continues to be presided over by those who keep her in emotional and spiritual check.
My friends, my family, Christ ... all of them, she said. I make sure I give all of the glory to the right people. They make sure Im on top of my schoolwork and taking notes for me when Im gone. And my parents make sure Im staying a teenager and just being me.
Being Missy Franklin includes embracing her Pied Piper-style existence at the Skyline Aquatics Center on a night that ended with a second-place finish in the consolation round of the 50-meter freestyle, another second-place, come-from-ahead result in the 200 free and -- as the world-record holder in the event -- a relative victory cruise in the 200 back.
I definitely wasnt concerned with times or places tonight, she said. It was more of a training session, competing in three events this morning and tonight. So were just getting ready for this summer.
For the record, this summers big-deal event is the World Championships in Barcelona.
We came out here and raced hard, so (that's) what we were trying to do.
When it was over, Franklins cooldown phase included meeting, greeting and signing autographs for the same type of impressionable tyke she was while idolizing the superstar swimmers who became her teammates last summer.
Thats why Im here, Franklin said when asked if she feels responsible to give back even more than in-pool performance to the sport thats taking her places she only dreamed of seeing. People thank me all the time for signing autographs, but I honestly feel that its my job.
To have the power to make people happy by signing a piece of paper ... not many people have that, so Im blessed and I want to use that.
But with what might seem like a whirlwind of opportunity before her, the only time Franklin hurries is when shes in the water. Although she could have been trading in on her success through endorsements and prize money, Franklin has remained an amateur. After prom dates on back-to-back weekends and the World Championships in Barcelona, shell start attending classes at Cal-Berkeley.
Franklin, who will swim at Cal for U.S. Olympic team head coach Teri McKeever, plans to compete collegiately for two years.
I hope to have the opportunity to have this as my job some day, she said of a professional side of the sport thats already waiting for her. But its all up to God. Ill just follow his path.
The journey and its daily opportunity for progress are considerable motivations.
So many different ways, Franklin said when asked how much she can improve after claiming four gold medals and setting a world record at 17. Mentally and physically ... I have so much to learn, so far to go and so much ahead of me in terms of becoming a better person and a better athlete.