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Missy Franklin: The double life of 'swimming's Hannah Montana'

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
Missy Franklin, left, enjoys her spot at the top of the medal rostrum after winning gold as part of the U.S. women's 4 x 100 meter medley relay team at the world swimming championships in Barcelona. It was her sixth victory of the meet, setting a new record total for a female swimmer. Missy Franklin, left, enjoys her spot at the top of the medal rostrum after winning gold as part of the U.S. women's 4 x 100 meter medley relay team at the world swimming championships in Barcelona. It was her sixth victory of the meet, setting a new record total for a female swimmer.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Missy Franklin becomes first woman swimmer to win six world championship golds
  • The American teen is juggling school life with sporting success
  • U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps tips her to beat his records
  • Now 18, she won four gold medals and one bronze at London 2012 Olympics

(CNN) -- Missy Franklin lives a double life.

A normal teenager preparing for college, she is also a four-time Olympic gold medalist who is rewriting swimming's record books.

When she's not dealing with the usual trials and tribulations of homework and school life, she's stepping out on the red carpet alongside Hollywood A-Listers.

"I describe my life as like Hannah Montana," the Pasadena-born, Colorado-based star told CNN. "During the week I'm totally Missy, going to school every day and going to practice and just totally being me.

Read: Record sixth gold for 'wonder woman'

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"But then at the weekend I'm flying out to the Golden Globes, going to these different events. It's crazy. It feels like I live a double life sometimes.

"But the way I describe it also is that it's not like my whole life has changed, just a part of it has changed."

While Franklin has not yet reached the profile of Hannah Montana, the schoolgirl/popstar played in the kids' TV series and movies by Miley Cyrus, she is on her way.

On Sunday, aged 18, Franklin helped the U.S. women's relay team to victory in the 4 x 100 meter medley at the world championships in Barcelona, giving her a record sixth gold medal of the meeting -- an unprecedented total for a female swimmer.

Read: Olympic swim sensation overcomes adversity

Only her legendary compatriot Michael Phelps has won more gold medals at one championships. The "Baltimore Bullet" took seven golds at the 2007 event in Melbourne.

When Phelps hung up his goggles at the end of London 2012, he charged Franklin with matching his legacy and equaling his record haul of 22 Olympic medals. No pressure then, Missy.

"On the last night we were in London, he (Phelps) had finished swimming, he was done," recalls Franklin.

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"He looked at me and said, 'I have 56 world records, you're going to try and beat it. You gotta get after me.' "

Read: Michael Phelps' golf growing pains

Franklin was one of a vanguard of young female swimmers who ruled the waves at last year's Games.

China's Ye Shiwen took two gold medals and stunned the world with her record-smashing swim in the final of the women's 400m individual medley, while Ruta Meilutyte, an unassuming Lithuanian, breezed to gold in the 100m breaststroke at the tender age of 15.

But it was Franklin who made the biggest splash, clinching four gold medals and a bronze to announce herself as swimming's coming force.

"I shocked myself!" explains Franklin. "I didn't have any of those expectations going in whatsoever, I was just happy to be there. Happy to be on an amazing Olympic team and to be able to call myself an Olympian was a huge achievement in itself.

"After that I just wanted to get out there and make my country proud. That was my only goal, whatever came with it came with it -- and that happened to be five medals. I couldn't have planned it any better."

With unexpected success comes new expectations -- and tough decisions.

Notably she decided to postpone turning pro, temporarily spurning the possibility of earning millions of dollars in endorsements to become arguably the world's most marketable collegiate athlete.

Phelps rejects swimming comeback
Who makes Michael Phelps giddy?

She also swapped Colorado for California, choosing to swim for the University of California's "Golden Bears." She plans to join the professional ranks after the 2015 NCAA Championships.

Juggling swimming with academia is now her biggest concern.

"It's very difficult, it's super hard," says Franklin. "I'm done with high school, which is super sad to think about because I'm going to miss it so much.

"You hear about what the Olympics can do for someone's career, but it's unbelievable how much it really does. I've been able to meet the most incredible people and I think that's been the best part.

"Going to the Golden Globes and the VMAs (MTV awards), seeing my favorite actors and actresses and singers, going to all of these events and meeting other incredible athletes. It's been life-changing.

"All the work is very hard to keep up with, but all my teachers and my friends are awesome at helping me catch up with homework.

"It's all about time management. Swimming has to happen and homework has to happen, so it's figuring out how to get those things to work together."

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Another role Franklin has taken on is to encourage others to take up water-based sports.

She spoke to CNN from the set of "The Current," a film she is making with fellow American swimmer Mallory Weggemann -- a Paralympic gold medalist -- aimed at encouraging people with physical disabilities to take up scuba diving.

"We're making an inspirational documentary about helping people with physical disabilities find a passion for scuba diving," said Franklin.

"To help them realize that, even if you have a disability, it doesn't mean you can't do these things -- you might just have to do it a little bit differently.

"You can be free, you can let go of everything. That's one of my favorite things about swimming, no matter how hard my day was or how tired I am, I can just get into the pool and it doesn't matter.

"We're all equal when we get into the water, it's just us and the water. The water treats us all exactly the same."

Despite those sentiments, U.S. swim fans will be hoping "Missy the Missile" is without equal when she takes to the pool in future Olympic Games.

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