“It’s OK to be not OK”.
Jeff Curry /Getty Images
Not only the image is ingeniously captured, there is also an enormous and colossal volume of hard work, tenacity and perseverance imparted by the character in the image, which is way more marvellous. Yes – I did want to be attentive in describing the most decorated Olympian this planet has ever witnessed, who rose like a phoenix from a point many unfortunately surrender to.
Born on June 30, 1985, Michael Fred Phelps II has been a story of exceptional talent coupled with a laser-sharp focus.
Introduced to swimming at the age of 7 by his two elder sisters, Hillary and Whitney, Micheal took to water comfortably. (Hillary did participate at the National level regularly).
Hillary (middle) was the 1st Phelps’ to hit the pool. Photo Credit: Google Images
At the age of 9, he was introduced to coach Bob Bowman who till date works alongside him. The duo have shared a special relationship for the last 26 years. Coach Bob was the first one to spot Michael’s talent after 2 years of training together for National Championships. It was then when Coach Bob had a tête-à-tête with Michael.
Coach Bob : “Michael, you can make the US Olympic Team in 4 years time.”
Michael : “Ok Coach, let’s do it. I am IN!”
That was a 11 year old boy taking decisions without a hesitation, with full trust on his coach and himself.
Micheal’s parents had gone through a divorce when he was 9 which did have a severe impact on all 3 children. Having said that, it led him to start trusting his instincts more which resulted in him taking his own decisions. Above dialogue is a clear precedent of that!
When Bob & Michael embarked on their journey at NAG 11-12 (National Age Group of 11-12 year olds), Coach Bob along with other coaches witnessed Michael Phelps create an aura around himself – starting from his physique.
In addition to his peculiar torso to legs ratio, flexibility in his limbs has been another critical element in his success. Take a look!
Flexibility in those wrists!! Isn’t that just rare and incredible?? Photo Credit/Business Insider
WAIT UP for our 1st ever TRIVIA section.
According to Coach Bob,
“ Michael has an athletic mentality second to none. He is keenly competitive and that’s what drives him. In competition, he is incredibly focused and able to relax. The higher the level of competition, the better he is. That’s something you just don’t see very often.
What he needs to work on is the same thing he had to work on as a child: to strengthen the connection in his mind between what happens on a daily basis and how that affects what’s going to happen when he gets in the big meet.”
Michael, at 11, was diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. To put it simply (Google definition):
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.
Coach Bob was driven and committed to keep working as a team in-spite of Michael’s disorder. He worked hard to successfully navigate through it along with Michael’s occasional “head butting” moments. He did a fabulous job in being the fatherly figure that Michael always craved for.
Coach Bob has had a massive hand in carving out Michael Phelps of today.
OLYMPIC DEBUT : SYDNEY 2000
At the age of 15, Michael Phelps became the youngest male to make a U.S. Olympic swim team in 68 years. While he did not win a medal, he did make the finals and finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly.
No one in their wildest dreams would have ever imagined what ensued in the next 4 Olympics Games (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016).
Some numbers for you to digest:
- 23 Gold Medals : 6 (2004), 8 (2008), 4(2012) and 5 (2016)
- 3 Silver Medals : 2 in 2012 and 1 in 2016
- 2 Bronze Medals : Both in 2004
- Total of 28 medals is the highest ever by an Olympian; 2nd highest stands at 18 medals.
- If Michael Phelps was a country, he’d be ranked 32nd on the all-time medal count. That’s all-time, as in everything a country has won in 120 years and 28 Summer Olympics.
- Since 2004 (when Phelps won his first Olympic race), only 12 countries have won more golds. Thus, Phelps is No. 13 on the gold-medal list since Athens Olympics of 2004.
- After Phelps’ 23, the highest Gold Medals ever won by an individual stands at 9!!
- There have been 64 races since the debut in 2000, Phelps has competed in 30 and medaled in 28.
- Phelps is 1 of the 3 athletes in history to win the same event at 4 straight Olympics. Al Oerter won the discus throw from 1956-1968. Carl Lewis won the long jump from 1984-1996. And Phelps has won the 200m Individual Medley from 2004-2016. Other than the club Phelps created for himself, this is the most exclusive one in the Olympics.
Phelps set 10 world records in winning those 23 golds.
Coach Bob, in an interview leading up to the Athens Games of 2004, mentioned “We continue to develop Michael as a complete swimmer. That means some emphasis on the distance freestyle. On Halloween, he whipped off a 5,000m freestyle in a 46min 34s time. That’s an average of under a 9min 20s per 1,000m. I was impressed with that. In fact, it is probably the most impressive thing he’s done, and it might be one of the most impressive things he ever does.”
NOT SO GOOD TIMES
Post-2008 Beijing Games, Phelps didn’t train for the next two years.
This came as a shock to a lot of his peers. According to Michael, “It felt like a chore.” This was also the time when in 2009, a British tabloid printed a picture of Phelps smoking a cannabis pipe three months after his return from Beijing. Later on, he was suspended for three months for this act.
In the London 2012 Games, 400m Individual Medley race turned out to be the 1st race where Phelps didn’t get a medal since his debut race in Sydney 2000. He termed it “the least favourite and the most influential race” of his career. London Games were the least productive for him and he took everyone by surprise by announcing his retirement abruptly.
“I’m done. I’m finished. I’m retired. I’m done. No more.”
In one of the many interviews he agreed to attend post the retirement revelation, Phelps came out in public about his Mental Health issues.
In 2014, Phelps hit his lowest when he contemplated suicide after his 2nd DUI (Driving under the influence of) in 2014. He stated he didn’t want to be alive. He didn’t want to see anyone else and that he didn’t want to see another day.
But, what does Mental Health issue/illness/disorder mean?
Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.
Phelps’ rendezvous with depression…
…started with the way US Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) – national governing body for US Athletes participating in Olympics and Paralympics – handled or shall we say mishandled athletes after their return from the Games. He points out that an athlete starts working towards his/her Olympic dream 4 years prior to the actual event. Those 4 years of life are solely dedicated to that one vision and the whole life revolves around that. So, when an athlete returns home from the Games, there is all of a sudden a massive vacuum. A big hole!
“What next?? What do I do now??”
It may sound whimsical to some but when you are chasing a goal like a maniac in a cut throat contest like the Olympics, the least one expects is a mechanism where the athletes are taken care of in some manner, where they are heard, where they are made to realise that their contribution is appreciated and valued and where they get empathy for not making the cut/getting a medal.
According to Phelps, a mind-boggling 75-80% of the athletes go through some sort of depression post-Olympics. You can only imagine if a decorated Olympian like him felt like that, what would be the state of mind of a “non-achiever” so to speak.
In addition to ADHD and USOPC’s treatment to its athletes, Phelps’ relationship with his father had been unsettling too. After his parents’ divorce, his father decided to start a new family. Years later, both attended a 45-day Mental Therapy workshop where Michael decided to clear some of the misperceptions.
In his interview with Tony Robbins, one of the foremost matters he brought up with his father was him not turning up for his son’s 1st win at US Nationals. As a result, it left a big question mark in Michael’s mind about their relationship which has always troubled him. In fact, it still does.
The above might have sounded mundane and “it happens in every household, no big deal”. But not all human beings are the same and not all minds think alike. Each of us is wired differently. Some need more care, more affection. There is nothing “not normal” about someone who needs more attention and warmth. There is no perfect individual in this world. Everyone has his/her blind spot. We just need to embrace it and discuss it openly.
Michael felt the same after he openly accepted his mental disorder in public. As per him, “Once I started talking about my struggles outside the pool, the healthier I felt. I felt like a million bucks. Way more than the medals I won in my career.”
Michael Phelps came out of his retirement in 2014, trained like hell for 2016 Rio De Janiero Games and notched up 5 more Gold Medals.
As the captain of the US contingent for Rio 2016, he spoke with other captains and to his surprise, mental health issues were prevalent across the board.
Michael finally hung up his boots in 2016 and now is in a much better state. He still does have a battle to confront with every day but now he does it with his family of 3 kids and Nicole – to whom he can’t be thankful enough.
Michael with Nicole, Boomer, Beckett and Maverick (the youngest) Photo Credit : Google Images
TRIVIA SECTION 1
- The five rings on the Olympic flag represent the five _________ of the world.
- How much does a Gold medal weigh and what is it made of?
- 5 inhabited continents (Australia was covered under Oceania in the early 20th century & Antarctica is still considered uninhabited).
- Gold Medal weighs 216 grams with 210 grams of silver which is coated with 6 grams of 24 carat gold.