Lessons from 23-Time Gold Medalist Michael Phelps

Matt Corthell |

I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Michael Phelps. He discussed his obsessive focus on each and every race and even quoted the race times down to the 10th of a second. While it was fun to remise down memory lane, it was far more impactful to hear about his struggles with mental health.

He touched on when he got his second DUI, and it being one of the lowest points of his life. He described staying in bed for days crying in the fetal position, before checking himself into rehab.

Phelps described that he felt he needed to be hardened to the world. Afterall, he was a super-athlete, a gold medal winner, and a champion for America. However, this resulted in him living an unauthentic life, it discouraged him from being vulnerable, which ultimately made him weaker.

After his last Olympic appearance in 2016, Phelps discussed the loss of identity he faced as his career ended, an identity that he cultivated from age 7 when he first began swimming. He is focused on encouraging the International Olympic Committee to prioritize the mental health of recently retired Olympians, because so much that made up their life to that point just vanishes upon retirement.

He remarked that connection and discussion are the keys to living a fulfilled and healthy life. He credits his newfound strength to his wife, Nicole, and their 3 boys. At the time of the speech, she was pregnant with their 4th child, a boy as well! He maintains a group chat of people that struggle with the ups and downs that life can bring, in order to stay strong, and he encouraged all those who feel that someone could be struggling to just check-in.

He now has appreciation for the fullness and circle of life. He discussed how this past July, his former coach, Bob Bowman, is training Leon Marchland. Earlier this year Marchland destroyed one of Phelps’ records and he is proud to see it broken knowing the work that Marchland put in.

It was a privilege getting to watch Phelps live. I wish him the very best on his journey of authenticity and helping those struggling with mental health!