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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Flying Fish out of water: ‘I’d rather run than swim,’ says Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps has been the rare athlete who has openly spoken about his struggle with depression and mental health, the other side of his glittering athletic career.

other-sports Updated: Mar 27, 2019 07:30 IST
Rudraneil Sengupta and Vidhi Choudhary
Rudraneil Sengupta and Vidhi Choudhary
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Michael Phelps during an interview with Hindustan Times at ITC Maurya Hotel, in New Delhi on March 26.
Michael Phelps during an interview with Hindustan Times at ITC Maurya Hotel, in New Delhi on March 26.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
         

These days, Michael Phelps tries to stay away from the swimming pool; he would rather go for a run.

The greatest swimmer of all time, and the most decorated Olympian in history (28 medals, including 23 golds, over four Games), has made big changes in his life since he retired three years ago, and he is enjoying the relief from what he calls his 24x7 job of competitive swimming. Phelps, who is in Delhi as the brand ambassador for US apparel company Under Armour, walked in for the interview with a big smile — he had just been Face-Timing with his older son, Boomer.

“For over 20 years I’ve spent my life in the pool,” Phelps said. “Now being able to have two kids, and have a family, is so awesome. Boomer was telling me about his day right now and that for me is a dream come true. My wife and I are homebodies; we don’t like to leave the house very much when we are home and really just like to enjoy our little family.”

It has been a hard road for Phelps to get here, and he has been the rare athlete who has openly spoken about his struggle with depression and mental health, the other side of his glittering athletic career. “I was really good at compartmentalising things, just stuffing things down and not dealing with it,” he said.

“Now I’ve been able to see where it leads me and it’s a dark place, a scary place, and I don’t want to go back there, and I hope nobody else goes back there.”

It was hard for him to ask for help, he said, but when he did, it allowed him the opportunity to “grow as a human”.

“I’m gonna struggle with depression and anxiety my whole entire life. It’s what makes me, me,” he said. “I’ve talked openly about it because it’s important to me, because a lot of people are struggling with the same exact thing.”

Phelps is looking forward to the Tokyo Games, because it will be the first time he will be at the Olympics as a spectator.

“I’m interested to see just how that’s going to be,” he said. “There are a lot of great swimmers out there, men and women, and they are from all over. For so long, it was USA against Australia. Over the last 15 years, the sport has really changed.”