Olympics 2021 swimmer Nicole Frank is living out her grandmother's dream in Tokyo

Nicole Frank will compete for Uruguay in the 200-meter individual medley at the Tokyo Olympics -- and fulfill her grandmother's dream. PATRICK B KRAEMER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

When Uruguayan swimming star Nicole Frank, 17, found out she had qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, she had only one thought: My grandma made it.

That thought was 81 years in the making.

Frank's grandmother, Angelika Rädche, qualified to swim for Germany at the 1940 Helsinki Olympics -- incidentally, rescheduled from Tokyo -- in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events. Rädche, who was Uruguayan, was 14 and lived in Germany at the time.

Then, just a few days later, World War II broke out. The Olympics were canceled.

Fortunately, she survived the war and returned to Uruguay, where she and her husband raised a family and lived a happy life. But she could never fully get over the fact that she didn't compete in the Olympics.

So after Frank was born in 2003, Rädche decided to tell her granddaughter stories. She told her how she loved training, how her brain always wanted more even though her body was tired, how her eyes grew wide with happiness when she was about to compete.

Frank hung on every word her grandma said. She loved the water and spent hours every day in the pool. She also took gymnastics lessons -- her mother is a gymnastics teacher -- but, when she was about 10, she had to pick a sport. Without a second thought, she chose swimming. She wanted to finish what her grandmother had begun in 1940.

"I loved being in the water. I loved my family's legacy in the sport. I also loved the opportunity to finish my grandmother's dream," she said.

Her grandmother never imposed her dream on Frank or her brother, who is also a swimmer, but Frank could always sense the undercurrent of a dream unlived, of a missed opportunity.

Rädche would accompany her and her brother to training and meets and would ask them for every detail.

Frank would tell Rädche, "Grandma, I am going to make the national team soon." And a few months later, she did just that. At age 13, she broke her first national record, in the 200-meter individual medley. By 15, she had added the national records for the 200- and 400-meter freestyles as well.

But Rädche never saw Frank break those records. In January 2016, she fell ill and died at age 90.

Frank was devastated, but her grandmother's stories and unfinished dream propelled her forward.

Frank had originally targeted Paris 2024 for her Olympic debut, but after breaking those national records, she realized she could very well make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics. She received a FINA grant and moved to the U.S. to train and, in June, qualified to represent Uruguay in the 200-meter individual medley which starts Monday.

There's a good chance she'll compete in most of the freestyle events in Paris. A few months ago, she also started swimming Rädche's favorite event, the 800-meter freestyle. She enjoyed the grind of it, the wave of exhaustion she felt after she was finished. She hopes to compete soon in every event her grandma swam, Frank said.

"It feels totally unbelievable that I am here," she said. "If Grandma knew I am here, she would be laughing, she would be so happy."

Paris 2024 was always the goal, but Frank outdid herself, which is just like her grandmother, Nicole's mother, Cecilia, said, through an interpreter.

"She didn't make the Olympics just for herself," Cecilia said. "She made it for the entire family -- her grandmother, particularly."