When Olympic champ Michael Phelps stopped by to visit us recently, we had to ask: How did he do it? Turns out, in addition to having a perfect swimmer's build and a great coach, he got a lot of help from -- surprise! -- his mom. (Read our in-depth interview with her here.) Have you been wondering about how to help your own kid excel? Read on. Phelps reveals how he got started and how he stayed the course to become the winning-est Olympic swimmer, ever.
LIFE AFTER EIGHT GOLD MEDALS
What's life like for you these days?
I don't even know what my life's like now. It's a blur. I've been on the road non-stop.
So there's no typical day?
No. If I have a day off, I'll sleep until two in the afternoon, just to catch up on sleep. I've worked out 4 times since Beijing. I'm a little out of shape.
Are you still eating the same way we all heard about?
No, God no.
HOW HE GOT STARTED
So why did you start swimming?
I grew up around the pool with my sisters. Both of my sisters swam. I was always there. So I thought, why not? My mom put us in the water for water safety, so we were comfortable in the water in case anything ever happened. I learned that way, and started liking it more and more.
When you were learning, were you afraid of the water?
I started on my back because I wouldn't put my face in. I really wasn't too keen on it.
So you weren't like "I love swimming."
The only reason I started swimming was for water safety. Then, once I started falling in love with sports, I got more comfortable with it.
I read in an interview that your mom put you in sports because you had too much energy.
Well, I was playing other sports and she was pretty much just like, "How do I wear him down?" So I was playing baseball, lacrosse, soccer and swimming all at once. When I got home I'd be beat.
Did it help you in other ways, like with your ADHD?
It helped me relax. I felt comfortable in the water. I was in my own world, focused. I love sports and I'm a very goal-oriented person. Once I started falling in love with sports, it was easy. I was able to put my mind on something and go for it. That's how I am with everything, it doesn't matter what it is that I do. If I want to do something, nothing will stand in my way.
Why did you stick with swimming and not baseball, lacrosse or soccer?
At the age of 11 my coach told me I could make the Olympic team in four years, so I said "Okay, I want to make the Olympic team, so that's what we're going to do." And I started training for that. I went five straight years without ever missing a workout. Every single day, 365 days a year.
ON HANDLING TOUGH TIMES
Have you ever felt like quitting?
What kept you in it?
Well my mom would ask me "Are you sure that's the best decision?" And I'd think, think, think. And I'd realize that actually it wasn't the best decision. At a very young age, I wrote down the goals that I had so I could always see what I wanted to accomplish. And I would look at that goal sheet and think "I still want to do this." So I'd decide "I'm not quitting. "
[pagebreak]Who taught you to write a goal sheet?
My coach. I was 11 when I started it and I've done it ever since.
How did you use your list? Would you think about it during the day?
I would visualize the best-and worst-case scenarios. Whether I get disqualified or my goggles fill up with water or I lose my goggles or I come in last, I'm ready for anything.
How do you handle disappointments?
They probably help me more. I don't like to lose. If I fail, I ask myself, "What can I do to make sure that doesn't happen again?"
I read that last year you broke your wrist and you had to go to practice and do other things, like using a kickboard, which sounds awful. Did anything good come out of it?
It made me realize that things can change in the blink of an eye and it also made me realize that when you use your imagination anything can happen. I was very negative for the first few days after I found out my wrist was broken, and I had a lot of time to think. I realized that all the people that told me I can't do it, that this is going to make it even harder You know what? I'm gonna do it.
What do you tell a kid that is discouraged, hasn't found that passion yet or is struggling in school?
I have had extreme ups and downs. The biggest thing I learned after I broke my wrist is to never give up. Nothing in life will ever come easy. It depends on how you deal with those obstacles and how you overcome those obstacles. If you can overcome them, you're a stronger person. If you make mistakes along the way, as long as you never make that same mistake again, you're a successful person.
ON FINDING BALANCE
When you were growing up, how did your mom help you balance swimming with school?
My mom instilled in me at a very early age how important education was and how that came first. I couldn't go play sports if we didn't get everything else done -- and I love sports. I'd go from the swimming pool to school to the swimming pool, come home and do my homework. I'm kind of a creature of habit. Once I get used to doing things, it's like second nature.
It's hard for parents to know if they should push extra-curriculars -- instruments or athletics or whatever.
My communication with my mom was always awesome. I'm a very vocal person and I speak what I feel. No matter what it was, she'd say "Are you sure you want to do this?" She'd let me make up my own mind.
So what were you like on the playground? What were you doing at recess?
I was very, very competitive.
What was in your lunchbox when you were little? Did you have like 18,000 calorie lunches?
My lunches were awful. My mom would give me peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I was like, "Mom! Where are the little tiny Twinkies? I want some Twinkies! I want some fruit snacks! Come on!" I never got them. I ended up trading with kids at lunch.
What a mean mom! I'm sure she did crazy things like driving you to practice at four in the morning, too. Do you plan to drive your kids to practice at four in the morning?
Hey, enough with the kid talk!
So, parenting is not uppermost on your mind right now?
I'm not looking to have a kid, not right now. My dog is good, but he just barks.
Michael Phelps stirred up some controversy when pictures of him smoking pot surfaced. Is 23 too old to pull the youth card? Can Phelps be knocked down from his pedestal, or should we give him a break?