When Michael Phelps first plunged his way into the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the rest of the world, including Phelps, was not ready for what was about to happen next. At the mere age of fifteen, Phelps created history by being the youngest male swimmer to compete within the last sixty-eight years. As if that wasn’t enough to fuel Phelps, just a few months later, he set another world record in the 200-meter race. Setting this world record crowned Phelps with the title of being the ‘youngest male swimmer in history to set a record.’ This record break would be the spark that ignited Phelps’s professional swimming career and would bring him to the center of America’s (and other countries during the Olympics) attention for years to come.
Fast forward sixteen years later, and Michael Phelps remains the center of the world’s attention with his unexpected return to the 2016 Olympics after announcing his retirement in 2012. If you weren’t into the Olympics then, or you were pretty young at the time, it may still be confusing to process why someone as powerful in the eyes of the world would just ‘give up.’ Some may argue that Phelps’s slope downhill began during the year of 2004, when at the age of nineteen he had been arrested for driving while intoxicated. This led him to being put on probation for eighteen months and being crushed under the weight of ‘letting a lot of people in the country down’. A couple of years after the incident, Phelps seemed to return “back to normal” and continued to win various medals at the 2008 Olympics, adding to his record. Unfortunately, this period of drug free activity only lasted what seemed like a ‘blink of an eye’. When photos were released of Phelps smoking marijuana after his record-breaking wins at the 2008 Olympics, all hell broke loose. He quickly apologized publicly, vowing that ‘it would not happen again.’
When things seemed to get better for Phelps during the 2012 Olympic games, they suddenly got worse. 2014 would be his breaking point. After being arrested in 2014 for yet another DUI charge, Phelps was instantly admitted into rehab. Now you might be asking, why is this important? Who cares? Celebrities have drug issues all the time, what makes this time any different?
That’s why it’s important. Because we sit in our thoughts and we ask ourselves, “just another drug addiction case, why should I care?” When Phelps had been for DUI in 2014, he would become part of the 83.4% of adults between the age of eighteen to twenty-five who suffered from drug abuse that year. The importance lies in that whether it’s twenty-two Olympic medal winning Michael Phelps, or your next door neighbor, drug abuse is a serious issue in the United States that is often ignored, due to it’s ‘irrelevance.’
During a recent interview with NBC, Phelps opened up on his addiction and his struggle through recovery.
“I still remember the days locked up in my room, not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting to see anyone, really not wanting to live, and I was on a downward spiral; on the express elevator to the bottom floor, wherever that might be.”
Now lets just take a minute and put ourselves in Phelps’s shoes. You’re a world-famous Olympic swimmer with gold medals lining up your arms, all the success that you want in the world, and one day you wake up and hit rock bottom. You don’t want to leave your room, you don’t want to live, you just want to escape and let the world swallow up your mistakes. What do you do then? Do you give up, and just disappear into the mountains? Or do you save yourself and take back everything you once loved? Something that stood out during the interview was when Phelps look at Bob Costas and said this: “It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about myself.” Boom, there we have it folks. Since drug addiction isn’t nearly talked about as much as is necessary, the fact that someone as influential as Michael Phelps was talking in a positive way about rehab, is a game changer. Within a span of two years, Phelps was able to recover from his inner demons and make a swift (and unexpected) return to the Olympics.
Lets be real, not everyone is Michael Phelps. Not everyone has 22 Olympic medals and world records upon world records. But we’re all human, we all cry, get hurt, lose ourselves, reach our breaking point, and we all heal. Michael Phelps has yet again showed the world that there is nothing stopping us from fighting what scares us, even if our fears are bigger than an Olympic sized pool.