AURORA, Colo. – Colorado has seen its share of pain this year with a mass movie theater shooting and deadly wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes.
But when Missy Franklin cinched her first gold medal at the London Olympic Games this week, it was finally time to cheer.
After days of mourning the mass shooting, Coloradans are celebrating the triumphs of the 17-year-old swimmer who attends Aurora's Regis Jesuit High School and lives in the nearby Denver suburb of Centennial. Following the July 20 shootings in Aurora, she dedicated her Olympic races to her home state.
"It's such a terrible thing, and I'm so shaken by it," Franklin said last week. "They're in my thoughts this entire process."
Franklin won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke Monday after having opened her games with a relay bronze.
"For Missy to take time in the midst of her finest moment to think about her hometown and how she can help in its healing is an incredible statement about her character," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said Tuesday.
"It certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that Missy cares, and we are proud of her achievements."
Franklin has become a much-needed cause for celebration in a state that was still reeling from destructive wildfires when the movie theater massacre occurred. This summer's High Park Fire in northern Colorado burned about 260 homes, while the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs destroyed more than 340 homes and killed a husband and wife.
Franklin's steady rise has been chronicled by Colorado news media, and on Tuesday The Denver Post emblazoned her gold medal triumph on its front page under the headline, "Missy's American grit."
Friends, coaches and followers embraced that grit — a symbol of perseverance shared by many after authorities say James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 others at a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."
"I know our entire state just has heartache right now, and for her to dedicate her work and success to us, it just helps that much more," said Madeline Cordier, a recent Regis graduate.
"She helps us push forward and she gives us something to look forward to," added Cordier's sister, Grace, who still attends Regis Jesuit. "She's putting a lot of smiles on a lot of Coloradans' faces."
Noah Utesch, a member of the boys' swim team at Regis Jesuit, praised Franklin's dedication of her races in the London spotlight as "something positive for the city of Aurora."
"It's got to do something to cover up that terrible tragedy," Utesch said.
Franklin's high school swim coach, Nick Frasersmith, was effusive in his praise of her determination and ebullient outlook on life.
"What Missy's doing in dedicating her events, really, I think, just kind of brings something we can all focus on that's positive and an enjoyment of some good things that happen in this world," Frasersmith said.
"And there's no better person like Missy Franklin with her wonderful attitude."