Razorbacks Swimmer Chelsea Franklin Gives Perseverance a New Meaning

Courtesy University of  Arkansas Athletics Department

For Chelsea Franklin swimming didn’t always come easy.

The Fort Myers, Fla., native began swimming at the age of 7 and it didn’t take long before her coach at the time, Connie Henshaw, decided swimming wasn’t the right sport for Franklin.

“My coach told me I was horrible and that I had no technique, no talent and I really should consider another sport,” Franklin said.

For most people, hearing those words would make them give up and move on, but not Franklin. She was different, or stubborn, or both, but she wasn’t a quitter.

“I don’t like being told I can’t do something,” she said. 

That childhood moment has been her primary motivation for the last 15 years, and it’s led her to do things she never thought she would at the age of 7, starting with earning a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas as a member of the swimming and diving team.

It didn’t take much for Franklin to decide where she wanted to swim while in college.

“On the third day of my visit I said ‘I love it here and I want to come here,’” she said.

Franklin said she fell in love with the Razorbacks and loved how the entire state rallied behind the Hogs.

Upon enrolling at Arkansas Franklin would work to make an impact early on in her swimming career, where a standout sophomore campaign earned her a trip to NCAA’s.

However, just three weeks before the National Championship she came down with the stomach flu and was unable to practice for a week, setting her back considerably 

Franklin was set to compete in three events at the NCAA Championship, the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle and 1,650 freestyle, but with the stomach flu taking her out for a week the coaches weren’t sure if she would even be able to make it. 

Franklin explains that her 200 free and 500 free did not go according to plan and it was down to the mile race on the final day of the NCAA Championship. Franklin needed to finish in the top-16 and score or Arkansas was in danger of leaving the Championship with no points. 

With a lot on her plate she picked up the phone and called former Razorback miler, Stephanie Carr. Franklin explained the situation and that she just needed a pep talk.

“She told me to just ‘go out and swim and do what you know how to do,’” she said.

And that’s just what Franklin did.

“I touched the wall after my race and I saw my time and I thought I had another 50 yards to go,” she said. “I was thinking ‘this is so embarrassing. I can’t believe I stopped and everyone is probably laughing at me right now.’” 

However, she didn’t have 50 yards to go. She was done, and her time was actually fastest time in school history – a 15:59. 05. The school-record time was also good enough to earn her All-America honors with a seventh-place finish at NCAA’s. 

The next year was much of the same for Franklin. As a junior she underwent back surgery to repair two herniated discs. It would take a lot for her to come back after a risky back surgery and be ready to compete at NCAA’s. 

Instead of practicing she would jog in the middle of the pool and do water aerobics – hardly anything strenuous enough to prepare her for NCAA’s. However, she was determined to reach her goal.

While at NCAA’s the second time around Franklin stepped up again, this time recording a 10th-place finish for another All-American performance in the mile.

For her senior season Franklin came in with a positive attitude, but after injuring her back again this past January her chances of returning to NCAA’s were pretty much out of the realm of possibility. However, despite the injury she was still able to make Arkansas’ SEC team. She made the finals in the 200 fly, scoring for the Razorbacks. Her biggest pickup was in the mile, as the senior was the third-finisher for Arkansas in their strongest event of the meet.

“After coming back from the injury, if I can get through that mile, because it was so painful, then I can get through anything,” she said.

A myriad of injuries throughout her career have showed her she has a high pain tolerance, but he injures have also allowed her to appreciate what she has accomplished even more. 

After hearing Franklin’s story it’s hard to think how someone could keep coming back after numerous injuries during her collegiate career. However, one meeting with Franklin and it’s easy to see she doesn’t give up. Much like the 7-year-old girl who was told she should pick a different sport, because swimming wasn’t it.

One of the last remaining questions in the Franklin file is what ever happened to the coach who told her she would never be a swimmer? Ironically enough, the coach is the same coach who offered Franklin a coaching job of her own after college. Franklin still keeps in touch with her former coach and the two still laugh about the past.

For Franklin, swimming has been a part of her life for too long to stop now. She intends to stay connected with the sport through coaching.

“This sport has been amazing to me and I want to share that with other people,” she said. “I’ve had so many opportunities and I am leaving college without debt and most people can’t say that. It’s given me so much and I feel that I need to share that with people.”


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