SANTA CLARA -- Olympic champion Missy Franklin finally understood her celebrity when the doorbell rang Halloween night.
"Trick or treat," said the kid dressed as America's favorite swim star.
Then another one clad as the 6-foot-1 Colorado teen with swim-fin feet rang.
"It was one of those moments, 'Is this really happening?' " Franklin said Thursday. "That hit me. You really made a difference here. Something big is happening."
It could get even bigger as Franklin, who recently turned 18, begins a four-year journey to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It all starts at Cal, where she will begin classes in the fall.
Franklin stopped by her new school Thursday morning before working out at the George F. Haines International Swim Center, where she will race in six events at the Santa Clara Arena Grand Prix this weekend.
The four-day meet began Thursday evening with two distance races. Franklin and many of the meet's other featured swimmers will race Friday through Sunday.
"This isn't a focus meet for anyone," she said. "This is just about racing and seeing where we're at."
The Americans are preparing for the U.S. nationals June 25-29 in Indianapolis. The top swimmers will advance to the 2013 World Championships this summer in Barcelona.
Franklin, who graduated from high school last week, is considering racing in eight events in Spain. She expects to swim the same events as at the Olympics -- the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes, the 100 and 200 freestyle, and all three relays. The teen also might enter the 50 backstroke, a non-Olympic event.
Then it is off to Berkeley.
Franklin wore a Cal cap after spending the morning sorting out classes and checking out her dormitory situation in the East Bay.
"It feels so much more real now," Franklin said of heading to college.
She expects the move to go swimmingly. Franklin already knows many of her Cal teammates and often has competed for Bears coach Teri McKeever, who led the U.S. team at the London Games.
Franklin, who plans to study social welfare, could have cashed in as a professional after winning four gold medals in London. But Berkeley called to her.
"I just knew it in my heart," Franklin said. "It was that intuition feeling of walking on campus and knowing that is where I was meant to be. You can go everywhere in the world and never find a place like Berkeley."
She plans to compete for Cal for two years before turning pro ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. If all goes well, Franklin would stay in Berkeley to train for the Olympics full time.
McKeever played a big role in Franklin's decision to come to the Bay Area. The longtime coach stresses balance, encouraging her athletes to take advantage of everything the school has to offer.
"She's not just concerned about making great swimmers but also great women," Franklin said.
The teenager plans to embrace the college experience despite her celebrity status. Franklin lets loose her trademark giggle when asked about the whirlwind life since the Olympics. She attended the Golden Globes in Los Angeles and had a guest appearance on the TV show, "Pretty Little Liars."
Franklin also has rubbed elbows with Justin Bieber, Ben Affleck and Prince Harry.
But she also enjoyed spending her senior year at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., attending proms, football games and helping lead the Raiders to a state championship.
"I do see myself as a regular high schooler who just gets to meet these incredible people," Franklin said.
The sentiment doesn't surprise Denver-area youth coach Todd Schmitz, who has trained Franklin for 11 years.
"You never catch her out of act," he said. "People see her on TV and they say, 'She can't be like that.' Well, she is."
Olympian Connor Jaeger of Michigan won the men's 800-meters freestyle with a meet-record time of 7 minutes 50.14 seconds. Australian Mack Horton was second while Canadian Ryan Cochrane, who won a silver medal in the London Games in the 1,500 meters, was third.
Canadian teen Tabitha Baumann won the women's 1,500 meters in 16:3703. The first American was Moriah Simonds of the Pleasanton Seahawks in fifth place.
Jaeger, 22, broke Park Tae-hwan's mark 7:52.07, set last year.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
Prelims on Friday, Saturday and Sunday begin at 9 a.m., with finals starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are available at santaclaraswimclub.org.