Far from his confident and winning self on top of the podium receiving gold medal after gold medal, Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps was in disarray and in solitude at his Baltimore home days after another DUI arrest in 2014.
The bemedalled athlete everyone was singing praises for and adored had fallen into a pit, arrested for going over 84 mph in a 45-mph zone with a blood alcohol level of .14 – nearly twice the legal limit.
At a blink of an eye, Phelps had gone from being the most decorated Olympian – spanning from 2004 to 2012 with a total haul of 18 gold medals – to a wrecked, pitiful soul.
The swimming prodigy had made alcohol – and gambling, his constant companion. His photos went from being on Wheaties boxes to police mugshots. Phelps had to be saved from himself.
His story – Olympic glory, DUI arrests, rehabilitation, comeback attempts – is the main feature on Sports Illustrated’s November 16 issue. Here, Phelps held nothing back.
“I was in a really dark place,” Phelps said in his SI interview. “Not wanting to be alive anymore.”
An intervention followed – Phelps’ family, coaches, close friends, then girlfriend (now fiancée) all agreed he needed to get help for his alcohol and gambling problem.
At the forefront of this intervention is his good friend and former Baltimore Ravens superstar and two-time Super Bowl champion, Ray Lewis.
“I gave him some harsh reality,” Lewis said. “I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing with your life?’”
That heart to heart talk opened up Phelps’ eyes. What followed was a 45-day stay at The Meadows in Arizona.
“I wound up uncovering a lot of things about myself that I probably knew, but I didn’t want to approach,” Phelps shared.
“One of them was that for a long time, I saw myself as the athlete that I was, but not as a human being. I would be in sessions with complete strangers who know exactly who I am, but they don’t respect me for things I’ve done, but instead for who I am as a human being. I found myself feeling happier and happier. And in my group, we formed a family. We all wanted to see each other succeed. It was a new experience for me. It was tough. But it was great.”
Among the burdens Phelps tackled in therapy, he admitted, was his strained relationship with his father, Fred, who divorced from his mother, Debbie, when he was just nine years old.
“I felt abandoned,” the 30-year-old told SI. “I would like to have a father in my life, and I’ve been carrying that around for 20 years. That’s a long time. It does something to you. To a kid, especially.”
After leaving The Meadows, Phelps is now reinvigorated and with a new purpose. He has gone back to training, setting his sights on having another historic run at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
He also vowed to not have another drink – at least until after the Summer Games.
According to Sports Illustrated, Phelps is the favorite to win in three events: the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly and the 200 individual medley — and would become oldest individual Olympic gold medalist in swimming history should he win.