SwimMom Musings: The Real Legacy of Michael Phelps and Why it Matters

by SwimSwam Contributors 17

August 16th, 2018 Swim Mom

Courtesy of Donna Hale

Seems like everyone wants to speculate that Michael Phelps will return to competition and again go for Olympic gold.  I do not believe this will happen because Michael, like many of us who love swimming, know that he has achieved his true legacy in this sport.  And it’s not the Gold Medals or the excitement he has created for what seems like a lifetime.

Michael Phelps – (courtesy of Mike Lewis, olavistaphotography.com)

Phelps legacy is the number of kids, my daughter included, that he encouraged to fall in love with life between the lane lines. And he did this by acknowledging his demons and facing them with courage.  Because of him, young people know that you don’t need to be a perfect person – just one who learns from mistakes and inspires others to face challenges head on.

When my daughter was ten she was chasing her first Junior Olympics cut in 100 fly. She had ADHD as well, and some moments were a struggle. When we asked for an autograph,  he sent a personalized note penned by him offering encouragement and support to swim on.  Yes, she got that 100 fly cut the very next meet, followed soon by the 200 fly and others.  Michael inspired her to turn what some see as obstacles into opportunities.  He’s been doing it for years.  That is his legacy. And I believe his goal now is to inspire others to dream large. Okay, he is the greatest swimmer to ever don goggles.  Here is why Phelps will always be this swimming’s greatest legacy.


Michael is a real person. He admits to struggling with depression and to getting the help he needed. There is no telling how many swimmers sought help because he spoke up and spoke out. So many swimmers can relate.  He was a catalyst for change.


Phelps is a passionate swimmer that shows his pure love in every race. This is what we teach our swimmers if we are great coaches and parents. The beauty is not found in the medals, but along the journey. You can spot these athletes in summer pools, in USA Swimming, and in NCAA.  Win or lose, they light up the pool with electricity.


Michael views teammates as friends not just  competitors.  This is extraordinarily important in a sport where you spend so time with same people.  He understands and nurtures that bond.  These bonds are precious treasures that are forever etched in your  memory.


He gives back to this sport, teaching others to swim not just to compete but for water safety.  He inspires kids to fall in love with the journey.  He changed the sport forever. And keeps it up in myriad ways including his foundation


Phelps has taught millions the importance of hard work. Success does not happen without commitment. Somewhere in one of his commercials he talks about it is what you do in the darkness when no one is looking that shines when the spotlight is on. This is such a life lesson.  Talent will carry you far. But hard work will take  you all the way.

Phelps will always be an ambassador. I cannot wait to enjoy his next chapter.

About Donna Hale:  Donna Hale has been swim mom for 16 years. Her daughter swims for Davis & Elkins College.

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Michael was a selfish and entitled teammate. No one will dispute he is the greatest swimmer of all time. Marriage, children, and time have matured Michael (and Bob for that matter) and he is a man I admire. He is using his platform for good and these efforts will impact more lives than his gold medals. Bravo, Michael.


I think this is a true statement that more people need to realize.




Yes, he has matured a lot. I agree the old Michael left a lot to be desired and he has acknowledged that. I think his wife Nicole is his angel on Earth. We met her at Trials and she is fun, funny and encouraging of the young swimmers. I have no doubt she has positively influenced Michael, Bob, and Allison for that manner. She seems to be one of those people who makes everyone around her better. I had to write to acknowledge her.

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How was he selfish?


I re-watched the Hank Haney Project with Phelps (just post-Beijing/ pre-DUI) and it’s insane!

Phelps basically tries to break Haney as a coach and get the upper hand on him. Really weird watching it after having read the recent Tiger Woods book, the Big Break (by Hank Haney) and a lot of Phelps coverage as he’s matured. That guy in 2009 was a different human


I agree with each of these points, and applaud Michael’s continued push towards finding his true nature as a man. No one can know what a young Michael Phelps went through. It’s not easy being a great athlete because in becoming a great young athlete, one tends to isolate one’s self and be isolated by others. But to watch him over the last XX years reach into and out of his own personal stuff, and affect the world in other ways (& not just the world of swimming)….I second the Bravo, MP.


Every time i read how great he is with kids it burns me. I was a parent of a child on CW from 2005-08 when Phelps was there. No one ever bothered him from the age group program….and those kids were around him a lot! He never ever took the time to say hi to a kid on deck, to thank a kid timing him at the Grand Prix meets he competed in. He was not a nice person at all. Maybe he has changed how he looks to others but i suspect this is only for image purposes. From what i am seeing of great swimmers under Bowman’s tutelage i’m thinking he is the linchpin in their issues. Someone… Read more »


I believe your story. I have heard similar ones from kids and parents who attended various camps at NBAC during that time. No one will speak out because he is the GOAT! I do think he has softened in fatherhood and marriage.


No one is perfect. Ever. We grow and we learn. Always a work in progress. He was a kid then. He grew into a better man and person. It is a lesson any swimmer can learn from


Just to add a story: my coach helped coach the Michigan U swim camp in the late 2000’s, and this coincided with when Michael was still training there, among other Olympians. In particular, Klete Keller and PVK who would often do drill instructions and help out with the kids, it would help motivate the kids. Michael just really had no part of it, while hes most certainly changed since this was at least a decade ago, he definitely was not the nicest person at one point


Wasn’t that over 10 years ago?


Well, the ADHD is something people don’t understand. Michael made it more mainstream for swimmers, For years, swimmers didn’t usually have problems in school with ADHD or even learning disabilities. In fact before Michael Phelps, Gregg Lagunas in Diving and Bruce Jenner in Truck and Field helped kids with dyslexia and so forth.


As a person that had both it was hard for swim teammates to understand the pain of having ADHD and dyslexia.


Watching my own daughter I saw it firsthand. I also saw that swimming was her happy place. It gave her refuge from the storms. It still is not well understood. But Phelps made her feel as important as kid next door. All kidsnerc that


Number 1 is huge. It is counterintuitive, but attaining great success like going to the Olympics and winning medals, can cause depression problems afterwards — for years or longer.