Missy Franklin was just 17 years old at the 2012 London Summer Olympics where she won an impressive four gold medals for the United States and become a household name. But today, the 25-year-old retired swimmer struggles to do the sport that made her a legend in the water.
Speaking exclusively to PEOPLE, Franklin reveals that she can barely swim now due to previous shoulder injuries she sustained.
"I really can't," she says. "I mean, my shoulders are in so much pain that I can maybe hop in the pool and swim easy for 20, 30 minutes, but that's about as much as my old broken shoulders can handle at this point."
Franklin, who earned her fifth and final gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and announced her retirement in December 2018, is clear on the possibility of returning to swimming: "Absolutely not."
"I never got the second shoulder surgery that I needed and I just — I don't really see getting back in the water at this point in my life being the best thing for my physical or my mental health," she explains. "I kind of feel like I've given everything I possibly could to the sport and now it's to do good outside of the water."
As an ambassador to the USA Swimming Foundation, Franklin is now focusing all her efforts on the Saving Lives Is Always in Season national campaign, which promotes the importance of keeping pools open year-round for swim lessons and drowning prevention.
"Our main focus with this campaign is to bring awareness to the fact that swim lessons aren't just for the summertime, they're for every single season," says Franklin, who launched the campaign alongside fellow Olympic swimmers Elizabeth Beisel, Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines. "So we're really pushing for pools to stay open right now. "
Franklin says that while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shut down both indoor and outdoor pools across the county, "we don't want parents to wait until next spring or next summer to get their kids in the pool."
"We want them to get their kids in the pool right now, whether it's at a learn-to-swim school, a gym, or a local pool that's close to you, that's still open," she explains. "Swimming is a life-saving skill, it is something that is so important for every child to know how to do."
Outside of the campaign, Franklin has managed to stay positive amid the pandemic with a special someone by her side: husband and former swimmer Hayes Johnson, whom she wed on September 14, 2019.
"My husband and I just feel so blessed because we're very positive and optimistic people and you give us any situation and we will do everything within our power to make sure we're seeing the silver lining and the glass is always half-full," says Franklin.
And even after seven months — and counting — in quarantine at their Colorado home together, Franklin admits that she hasn't gotten sick of Johnson just yet. "Honestly, I am absolutely obsessed with my husband," she says.
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