In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps amazed the world with his athletic abilities. He was a super hero who was on top of the world . . . or so it seemed. But behind the scenes, far from the public eye, there was a very different story unfolding.
The real Michael Phelps was struggling with deep-seeded issues surrounding a complex personality and perfectionism. There were also ongoing feelings of abandonment by his father who divorced his mother when he was 9.
So, even after winning 8 Gold Medals in Beijing, Michael wanted out. As he put it, "I was a train wreck. I was like a time bomb waiting to go off. No self-esteem. No self-worth. There were times I just didn't want to be here."
Six months after the Beijing Olympics, the photo of Michael and the infamous marijuana pipe surfaced as questions and rumors spread. This event cost him a suspension of six months from the USA Swim Team. But despite his desire to quit, he went on to win 4 Gold Medals in London in 2012. But that's when he finally did it. Michael Phelps retired as the most decorated Olympian of all time. In his words he declared, "I was finished. I wanted nothing more to do with sports. Done. Done."
Retirement provided Michael total freedom to do anything he wanted. He had lots of money, lots of time and a host of new friends willing to help him discover this new carefree lifestyle. He put on 30 pounds and in his words, "I had fun, too much fun and did anything I wanted. I was a little twerp."
Part of his new lifestyle included the rejection of his family and friends. Those who had spent a lifetime loving and supporting him were now shoved out of his life. Obviously, they feared Michael was going in the wrong direction - headed for something really bad. And they were right.
On September 30, 2014 - police clocked Michael going 81 in a 55 mile an hour zone. A breathalyzer test revealed a blood alcohol level of .14 - nearly twice the legal limit. He was arrested and charged with DUI; his second in 10 years. Later, Michael shared, "I was setting myself up for some kind of failure, and I was screaming for help." But in his girlfriend's words, "You can't help someone who doesn't want it." From his coach's standpoint, the DUI was Michael's third strike and he believed Michael Phelps was finally over...finished.
The next five days Michael barricaded himself in his bedroom. The publicity of his second DUI brought tremendous shame. He honestly thought this was the end of his life and believed the best thing to do was to end it all.
But then, one of Michael's longtime friends, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, reached out to Michael by saying, "Don't shut down... If you shut down, we all lose." Lewis also gave Michael a book called, The Purpose Driven Life, which ended up playing a major part in Michael's transformation. Later, when referring to the book, Michael said, "It helped me realize there's a power greater than me...That there's a purpose for me on this planet... It helped me when I was in a place where I needed it the most."
Then Ray Lewis, and others close to Michael, eventually convinced him to seek help at the Meadows, a behavioral rehabilitation facility near Phoenix. Michael said, "I got in the car. Shaking in the car. Shaking when I got there. I texted my mom and told her I was afraid for the first time in my life. I was out of my comfort zone and I didn't like that. When you're at the lowest point in your life, you're open to a lot of things to try to change it, and try to get back on the right path. I was surrendering." A few days later, Michael decided to approach rehab as yet one more competition - one that he must win!
In November of 2014 Michael Phelps left the Meadows in a far better place than when he arrived. He now had two goals he wanted to accomplish. He wanted to reconnect with his father, and he wanted to begin training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. And the rest is history...
Today, only a couple of months after the 2016 Olympics, it's hard to imagine that not so long ago Michael Phelps was ready to throw in the towel and end his life. Now he's being labeled as, "The Greatest American Swimmer," and "The Greatest Athlete of the Modern Era." While others are going so far as to say, "Michael Phelps is the Greatest Athlete Ever." What an amazing comeback! What an amazing story of extreme struggles turned into success!
Stories from the local, state and national news can make for great dinnertime conversation, as well as provide valuable teaching tools for your children. This story of Michael Phelps is no exception.
Red Ribbon Week is a great time to remind your children about your family's values about the use of drugs and alcohol.
Try to identify with the immense pain and helplessness Michael's family and close friends must have experienced over the past several years.
Ask your children: "What would it be like to have a child, parent or close friend who is headed down a positive path do a 180 turn toward a destructive lifestyle filled with drugs and alcohol?"
Talk about the difference in friends: those who seem to cheer you on while you're spiraling out-of-control and those who refuse to give up on you and continue to provide encouragement and support.
And consider this - even when things turn around and begin moving in the right direction, when drugs and alcohol are involved, there's always the plaguing fear: How long will the recovery last? For some it's a lifetime, while for others it's a short-lived, slippery slope as the intense pull of addiction wins out over and over again.