Michael Phelps speaks at New Albany Foundation presentation

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Maddie Wells

Doug Ulman (right) interviews Michael Phelps (left). The interview took place as part of the New Albany Foundation’s lecture series, an annual education program that features internationally prominent speakers.

Maddie Wells, Staff Writer

On March 9, Michael Phelps spoke at a presentation held by the New Albany Foundation in a talk with Doug Ulman about his swimming career and its impact on his mental health. 

Michael Phelps is the most decorated swimmer in Olympic history with 23 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals. He has been swimming professionally for 16 years and retired following the 2016 Rio Olympics and began advocating for mental health and promoting water safety. 

Phelps was 15 when he became the youngest male to make a U.S. Olympic swim team. In his first race, the 200m Fly, Phelps was only three-tenths of a second off of first place, coming in third. Bob Bowman, his coach at the time, helped the frustrated Phelps become motivated to set a world record. 

“From that point forward, things got really fun and really fun fast,” Phelps said during the virtual Q&A presentation.

Six months after Phelp’s first Olympics, he beat the world record in the 200-meter butterfly in  Austin, Texas which qualified him for World Championships and got Phelps to go to Fukuoka, Japan, in 2001, where he would beat another world record in the 200m Butterfly. 

“Breaking two [records] in one year, that really jump-started [my career],” Phelps said. “Things just started to take off.”

In 2003, Phelps qualified for a variety of different races to see what his body could handle. This eventually led him to make history, winning 8 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.

“It was really trial and error up until that point just to see what I could handle, what timelines I could handle and what my body can go through in a week like [the Olympics],” Phelps said. 

The 2012 Olympics was more difficult for Phelps, and he wished he could’ve done more preparation to swim well. 

However, it put him in a place where he could improve both mentally and physically for the 2016 Olympics.  It wasn’t easy for Phelps to figure out how to improve, but he knew he needed to improve somehow. He spent 45 days in a treatment center getting a professional perspective on what he was experiencing and becoming more understanding of himself.

“That allowed me to be freer in a sense, just kinda be me and live in the moment,” Phelps said. During his stay, he was able to take steps to improve himself and prevent him from going down a bad path. 

“It was one of the most difficult times of my life,” Phelps said. “I decided to check in [to the treatment center] because there was a point where I did not want to be alive anymore. At that point, I felt and knew that there was something else that had to be done.” 

After facing defeat in the 2012 Olympics and going to the treatment center, Phelps was in a better place mentally put him in a position where he could climb up mentally and physically in order to prepare for the 2016 Olympics.

After the 2016 Olympics, Phelps realized he never really had time for himself while training for the Olympics, and decided that it was time for retirement.

“That was the only way I was able to do what I wanted to do and have my [own] free space,” Phelps said.

Since his retirement, Phelps has started to focus more on promoting water safety through the Michael Phelps Foundation that he started in 2008. 

“I wanted to try and help people,” Phelps said. “For me, I want to do everything that I can to teach important things to kids at a young age. For kids under the age of 14, drowning is the second highest cause of death, so for me as a dad of three kids under the age of five that is something that still scares me.”

Phelps has also started to advocate for mental health, implementing it into his foundation this year. 

“One of my goals is figuring out somehow to lower the suicide rate, I know how dark times can be especially right now… It is so important that we are making sure that we are paying attention to not just our physical health but our mental health as well,” Phelps said. “It’s better to have both of them as strong as they can possibly be. The more they can come together and help you, the opportunities are just endless.”