Michael Phelps, the American swimmer whose 22 Olympic medals make him the most decorated Olympian of all time, has revealed that he was “in a really dark place” after he was arrested last year for drunk-driving – and admitted to feelings of “not wanting to be alive anymore.”
Phelps, who has 18 gold medals from three Olympic Games, describes his arrest and subsequent emotions in a revealing interview in Sports Illustrated, and recalls lying low at his home in Baltimore as news media were camped outside. “I was in a really dark place,” Phelps told SI. “Not wanting to be alive any more.”
Shortly after his arrest, he entered a treatment facility in Arizona. He says his 45-day stint rejuvenated him, but at the time he felt frightened. “Hug-hug, kiss-kiss, turn in my phone and go to my room. It’s probably the most afraid I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Phelps was pulled over in September 2014 after being clocked doing 84mph in a 45mph zone in Baltimore. He failed two sobriety tests and was charged with DUI, excessive speed and crossing double lane lines. “I just put my head on the desk,” his mother Debbie told SI. “I thought, Oh, my God, here we go again. How terrible is the world going to be to my son?”
Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, echoed Debbie Phelps’s concerns: “I had been living in fear that I was going to get a call that something had happened. Honestly, I thought, the way he was going, he was going to kill himself. Not take his own life, but something like the DUI, but worse.”
Phelps pleaded guilty to drunk-driving in December and was given one-year suspended sentence and 18 months of supervised probation, but avoided jail time. “The last three months of my life have been some of the hardest times I’ve ever gone through,” Phelps said on the courthouse steps after his hearing. “Some of the biggest learning experiences that I’ve ever had, finding out a lot about myself. For this day, I’m happy to be moving forward, and I’ll continue to grow from this.
“I look back now,” says Phelps says in Sport Illustrated. “I lived in a bubble for a long time.”
After the spell in rehab, Phelps got back in the pool. He returned to training last fall, and has worked hard to cultivate a leaner and more muscular physique. After been dropped from the US team for the 2015 world swimming championships in Russia this summer, Phelps competed in the US nationals instead, and won gold in three events, in each posting the fastest time of the year so far.
He has not drunk alcohol since his arrest, and has vowed not to drink until the Rio Olympics are finished next August. After years of enduring workouts with a hangover, Phelps is training clean. “Haven’t had a single sip and will not have a sip. The performances were there because I worked, recovered, slept and took care of myself more than I ever had.”
“I’m back to being the little kid who once said anything is possible,” Phelps says in SI. “You’re going to see a different me than you saw in any of the other Olympics.”
- In the US and Canada, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 08457 90 90 90. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.
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