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Team USA: Michael Phelps Didn’t Want To Live

Imagine being Michael Phelps. Imagine being the most decorated Olympian of all time. Imagine standing on the medal podium 22 times at four Olympic Games and being arguably the world’s best swimmer. And also feeling useless to the point of taking your own life.

That’s exactly where now five-time Olympian Michael Phelps was in 2014 after a DUI arrest—his second in 10 years. In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Michael Phelps said after that arrest, he sent himself into a rapid spiral toward rock bottom.

“I was going fast, fast,” Phelps told Lauer. “I felt like I didn’t wanna see another day—felt like it should be over.”

The spiral wasn’t slowed by heavy drinking, a number of damaged relationships and a fight to find his worth when he wasn’t in the pool. Phelps was a fish out of water.

Matt Lauer recalls interviewing Michael Phelps leading up to the London 2012 Olympics, where Phelps was as positive and chipper as ever. He had everybody fooled—Phelps said he was pretty good at that—but inside he was crumbling. A tumultuous and volatile relationship with his coach led to an apathetic run in the 2012 Olympics. Still, Phelps brought home six more medals, four of them of the gold variety.

But, the apathy didn’t disappear with the London 2012 media coverage, and Phelps said he believes the September 2014 arrest was a cry for help.

“I thought the world would just be better off without me,” said Phelps in an ESPN report. “I figured that was the best thing to do—just end my life.”

So last October, the four-time Olympian and Rio 2016 shoo-in checked himself into The Meadows, one of the nation’s premier centers for psychological trauma treatment, located in Arizona. He was there for a total of 45 days.

Phelps described his drinking habits as bingeing but said he honestly doesn’t know if he is an alcoholic or even has a drinking problem. When Matt Lauer pressed for an answer, Phelps admitted he had gone too far in the past with alcohol, but did not say his binge drinking was the reason for rehab.

“I checked myself in because I think I was at a point in my life where something needed to change, and I needed to figure things out.”

Something did change, and all because a friend reached out to him with a book—”The Purpose Driven Life” bySaddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren.

The book helps readers ask the question, “What on Earth am I here for?” Warren explains each one’s purpose is designed by God, created for fellowship with Him, and made to be like Jesus.

Soon Phelps garnered the nickname “Preacher Mike” from fellow program residents because he read it aloud every morning. The book was a gift from Ray Lewis, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, and Phelps credited his return to life to “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Now, Phelps is a five-time Olympian and still the most decorated Olympic athlete in the history of ever, with 28 medals under his belt, 23 of them being gold. And, Matt Lauer says, “He really is a very different guy than the guy we’ve talked to in the past.”

About the author

Emily Gehman

Emily Gehman

Emily Gehman is Shattered magazine's Online Managing Editor by day, a freelance writer by night and a follower of Jesus at all hours. She holds a B.S. in Counseling from Summit University and an M.A. in English from the University of Michigan. She lives in Lapeer, Michigan with her family and trusty golden retriever, Rockwell. Emily tweets @emilygehman and blogs at emilygehman.com.

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