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Michael Phelps on the end of his career: 'You saw the real me'

Posted March 3

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps spoke on Thursday in front of a packed house at the Qualtrics Insight Summit.

What does Phelps have to do with tech? Not much. But the 28-time gold medalist focused his talk on innovation.

Phelps fielded questions from Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith about his career, his post-swimming life and how he plans to help people moving forward.

Here’s a look at what Phelps spoke about.

On the end of his career

Phelps said he wanted to finish his Olympic run on his own terms. He said after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing he felt he reached the end of his run. He had done so much, so he asked himself, “What should I do now?” Four years later, in 2012, he felt pressured to return to swimming.

After that, he said he found himself in “the darkest place possible” and didn’t want to live anymore. As was widely reported, Phelps had a brief stint in rehab after he was charged with a DUI.

“I would look at myself in the mirror and see Michael Phelps the swimmer,” he said.

He added the last two years of his career were the most enjoyable because he got to be himself.

“You saw the real me,” he said.

He said his career was so long and he felt blessed to get the opportunity to end it on his terms.

“I completed my mission in the pool exactly how I wanted to complete it," he said.

His return to swimming

Phelps said he was watching Monday Night Football when sports commentators announced he had been suspended from swimming. It was that moment when he decided he wanted to show off who he truly was and come back to the pool.

He said he reached a crossroad where he could either continue a downward spiral or change it. He said building a better relationship with his wife inspired him to keep going.

“It didn’t matter how painful it was going to be, I was going to do whatever it took to get back … to the top of the mountain,” he said.

The 2016 Olympics

During the 2016 Summer Games, Phelps said he became one of the older members of his team, offering him the chance to instruct his teammates.

“That’s where I really felt like I was a dad.”

No one really talked to Phelps at previous Olympics. He didn’t have a lot of friends on the team in past Olympics. He said in 2016 he was very open, definitely more so than in the past.

“I felt the team, they were open to coming up and talking to me and asking questions,” he said.

On growing up and achieving your dreams

Phelps said he worked with one goal in mind: “I wanted to be the first Michael Phelps.”

He also said, “I wanted to do something that no one else had done before. And that made me work differently than anyone else.

On life after swimming

“I haven’t looked back,” he said. He added later, “Finishing my career on my terms with my family in the stands, was great.”

His family also influenced him.

“I have an amazing family with an amazing wife and an amazing baby boy. We get to travel together.”

In the end, he couldn't dream of a better life.

“This is how I would imagine an amazing life would be. For me, swimming aside and everything else, for me this is a dream come true.

What does he want to be remembered for?

Phelps said he hoped to look back on his career and do everything he wanted to do.

“I look forward to telling them to my son. I look forward to sharing these moments with him.”

“This last chapter of my swimming career was so powerful.”

On giving back to people:

Phelps said he’ll go to different boys and girls clubs to just chat with young people. He said he receives a number of questions from the kids.

“It’s the absolute greatest.”

Phelps also said he’ll help children understand their emotions and build confidence.

“If I can do that for the rest of my life, my life would be complete.”

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