Franklin Knew AR Was Coming, But Not When

In planning for a new record, Tori Franklin says she and her coach were “just speaking it into existence.” (JEAN-PIERRE DURAND)

When Tori Franklin leaped to her American Record 47-9¾ (14.57) in Madrid, she knew coming out of the sand that it was good. She just didn’t know it was that good. “Soon as I saw that,” she says, “I was beyond excited.” She explains, “It was surprising because we haven’t had that many jumps sessions in practice, so I didn’t feel particularly ‘triple jump fit’ to put together that jump, let alone that series.

“Me and my coach, we’ve been talking about it like, ‘Oh, we’re going to go get that American Record this indoor season. Yes, it’s gonna happen.’ That’s what we were doing, just speaking it into existence. So I knew we were going to do it, but I didn’t know exactly when.”

Not bad for a wannabe pole vaulter. Franklin says that she was not at all happy 11 years ago when her coach at South High in Downers Grove, Illinois, told her as a ninth-grader that she would be a triple jumper. “I had shown up to practice the first day and I grabbed the pole and I was doing the drills. I was just about to pole vault until the coach was like, ‘Um, no, Tori, we’re going to have you triple jump.’

“And I’m like ‘Triple what??’ I was so upset. I actually started to cry because I had been planning to do pole vault ever since seventh grade. The time came finally, I made it to high school, and they’re like, ‘Nah, we want you to do something else.’” By the time she graduated, Franklin had won the State title and reached 40-7½ (12.38). But she never got to vault.

At Michigan State, coach Walt Drenth remembers her as the “ultimate team player.” She competed in all of the sprints and jumps—except for the vault—as well as plenty of relays. Her high point in the triple came as a frosh at the ’12 NCAA Indoor where she finished 3rd. “Every other year I either didn’t make the finals at NCAAs, or was doing multiple events for the team,” remembers Franklin. “I was also just going through some mental things that just kept me from being able to really focus.”

After graduation, no one threw money at Franklin to see her keep going. But she says, “I felt I had a ton of potential inside.” Figuring out how to mine that potential was the challenge. “My first year I worked three jobs and I had a little bit of savings. That wasn’t too bad, but it was really hard because I was still at school. That second year I moved to Chicago. And that’s when it really kicked in that this wasn’t easy to do. I had run out of money, I still had zero support and I was just out here trying to do triple jump, an obscure event that they don’t really even fund much of in the first place.

“I did have my doubts. I was job searching real jobs. Because I was about to quit. My coach, Andreas Pavlou, he pushed for me. He said, ‘Just try the indoor season and let’s see how it goes. I just kind of stuck with it. Good thing I did.” That winter, she leapt a PR 45-5¾ (13.86) to win the USATF Indoor.

Franklin, now 26, ranked No. 5 in the world last year after a season in which she broke the American Record outdoors last spring with a 48-8¼ (14.84). Now she is focused on championships: “I am looking to get a few medals in the triple jump. In practice, I just see some really good things coming together and I think that this really is just the beginning for me and I have so much farther to go. So I plan to still be triple jumping for the next—I’m just going to throw a number out there—7-8 years. And I will probably dabble in the long jump because historically I haven’t been good at long jump, but my run has gotten so much better. I actually had a really good PR in practice last year, so I might start doing long jump and maybe dabble in some 60 work, ’cause I’m kind of fast now, but we’ll see.”

A woman with surprising talents—she’s worked as a chef, among other things—Franklin helps coach the jumpers at Div. III Concordia College. She’s also writing a book about a young woman “coming into her adulthood and just experiencing life, figuring out her career, sexuality and depression.” And she’s doing inspirational speaking at public schools throughout the Chicago area: “I come in and motivate, talk about self-love and dealing with depression and things like that. A lot of stuff that kids don’t really talk about. That’s what I love doing.”

And she continues to work to be her best at the triple. “This has been such a great journey,” she says. “I feel like a lot of athletes coming up think that all track athletes are what they see on TV, where they just have this talent and it just happens for them. But for a lot of us it takes a lot of hard work and that’s the part that people don’t see. I want them to know that it is possible to be that star.”