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  • Feb

    "Touch the Wall" Movie Review: More Than a Swimming Documentary

    Touch the Wall, the documentary that shadows Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce during their preparations for the 2012 London Games premiered last November to a packed theater in Franklin’s native Denver.

    Since then, the movie has been playing in theaters and community centers across the country, hosted mostly by swim teams before the scheduled DVD launch in May.

    Some of us here at SwimOutlet had the chance to preview the movie during the documentary’s New York premiere just before Thanksgiving.

     

    It’s a fun yet focused and thoughtful narrative that highlights the contrasting stories of a younger, enthusiastic Franklin on the rise to potential swimming stardom and the talented veteran Kara Lynn Joyce (then 26), a four-time silver medalist looking for a third (and final) shot at Olympic glory.

    Directors Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito were initially given access to Missy through a personal connection with her father; the ebullient, downright giddy sound bytes from the 14-year-old Franklin as she talks about her sport are early highlights of the film. It’s especially impactful given what we all know about her success three-years later in London and the smiling, energetic teenager we all got to know on national television.

    Joyce, who joined Franklin’s Colorado Stars team under coach Todd Schmitz a year out from the London Games, strikes a more measured tone. After competing in two Olympics in Athens and Beijing, Joyce is struggling for funding, not hitting her best times and setting her sights on just competing in London. Hers is really a story about life.

    “This duality of the pro and the amateur, the early stages of a swimmer’s career and the latter stages is really what helped drive this story,” said Brock.


    Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce with director Grant Barbeito (center) at the New York premiere

    And so do the visual moments that the public just doesn’t see or hear much about in a swimmer’s quotidian life: 5am practice when it's pitch black and Franklin’s face still looks half asleep, discussions back home about how to schedule things around practice, or heart-to-heart talks about what it is that drives these athletes to push themselves every day.

    The movie reaches its climax when Joyce confronts Schmitz about her training in a poignant and emotional moment before ultimately going in a different direction.

    While Franklin may be the starring headliner, the real heroes might just be the swimmer’s mentors; for Franklin that’s her parents who keep her rooted in the day-to-day. For Joyce, its her coaches, first Schmitz who forces her to confront the motivation and passion for the sport she needs to harness and then SwimMAC coach David Marsh, who guides and motivates with a dose of comic relief – welcome both in real life, and the movie.

    Like most Olympic stories – especially the ones we don’t see as much on television, it’s not about how you finish, but the journey along the way. And the biggest lesson in Touch the Wall is truly reinforcing to all of us that it takes more than one athlete to get there.

    “It’s more than a swim movie,” said Brock. “It’s really a film about two great women, role models and the grace they display. Really, it’s something we need more of in this world.”

    For any competitive swimmer, Touch the Wall is a must-see. 

    Email Address Invalid. Please enter an email address in the format: xx@yy.zz
    Kim Stanley
    6 years ago.
    I have three children that are all year round swimmers and they found the Touch the Wall documentary very motivational and exciting. We are all looking forward to watching Missy Franklin's career grow as she goes pro and are filled with anticipation as we wait to watch the US Olympic Team in Rio 2016.
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