“There is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet”
Michael Phelps is a household name for Team USA, one many Americans associate with hard work and success.
Phelps has an insatiable appetite to be the best, which was clearly demonstrated early on in his career. According to NBC News, he became the youngest man to join the U.S. Olympic Swim Team since 1932, at the ripened age of 15.
Despite his extensive workout regime, locking in five-hour workouts six days a week all while eating close to 12,000 calories a day to fuel his training, Phelps admits to NBC’s Bob Costa that he really never gave it “100 percent:”
“Six months before the Olympic trials in 2008 I broke my wrist. Two days later I had surgery. I was always doing stupid things that held me back.”
Some of those “stupid things” Phelps alluded to were doing drugs and drinking too much alcohol. As Fox News reports, Phelps was arrested and charged with a DUI in 2014 after leaving a casino in his hometown of Baltimore.
His struggle with alcohol was made public just ten years prior, when he was charged with his first DUI at the age of 19:
“Very few people knew who I really was and I took some wrong turns and found myself in the darkest place you could ever imagine that I hope nobody ever goes. I still remember the days locked up in my room, not wanting to talk to anybody, not wanting to see anybody, really not wanting to live.
I was in a downward spiral on the express elevator to the bottom floor, wherever that might be.”
Phelps calls 2014 his “absolute rock bottom,” revealing he even had suicidal thoughts.
“I was in a really dark place,” Phelps says. “Not wanting to be alive anymore.”
“There were thoughts about, like how would I do it, but I knew I never would, because I knew I would hurt so many people, me included.”
Phelps entered a rehabilitation facility in late 2014 and remains firm that he hasn’t had any alcohol since October 4 of that year.
Phelps says that during his time in rehab, it was like all the weight he carried for years and years was just lifted off his shoulders:
“It’s like you walking down the street with a backpack full of weights — one by one, you just remove the weight, and that’s how I felt. I literally felt like I was walking on clouds.”
Part of the reason for Phelps’ newfound “lightness” is his Christian faith.
According to ESPN, the world-class athlete apparently became known as “Preacher Mike” and would regularly read excerpts of “The Purpose Driven Life” to his fellow patients.
Phelps’ long-time friend and fellow Christian, NFL All Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, gave him the book, written by Pastor Rick Warren, before he entered rehab. Seeing the hopelessness and despair in his young friend, Lewis, an outspoken Christian, told him, “This is when we fight … This is when real character shows up. Don’t shut down. If you shut down we all lose.”
The book changed Phelps’ life. Within a few days, Phelps called Lewis and told him “‘Man this book is crazy … The thing that’s going on … oh my gosh … my brain, I can’t thank you . . . enough, man. You saved my life.’”
In an interview with ESPN’s E60, the Olympian credits Warren’s book for the reason he turned a new leaf:
“It’s turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet…it helped me when I was in a place where I needed the most help.”
The 31-year-old athlete told USA Today he’s a totally different person than he was before:
“I feel like I’m a different person now. Maybe I’m nicer. I like to be able to interact with people, and before I don’t think I would have welcomed that. I’m just in a happier place with where I am in my life. For so long, I thought of myself as this kind of robot. Now that I see myself as a human being, it changed my life.”
The book, which tells readers that “relationships are always worth restoring,” also convinced Phelps to reconcile with his father from whom he had been estranged for more than two decades. Upon seeing each other, they embraced.
“I didn’t want to have that ‘what if.’ I didn’t want to go through life without having the chance to share emotions I wanted to share with him. That’s what I missed as a kid.”
Much like his real-life journey, this summer Phelps is leaving everything he has in the water, calling Rio his last Olympic games.
–By KAYLA BRANDON