INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – Michael Phelps is counting the days to retirement, but the legendary swimmer, who owns 16 Olympic medals, insists he still has goals, plans and dreams.
Phelps discussed life after swimming this week at a Boys and Girls of America club a few miles from downtown Indianapolis, where he is competing in this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix.
The meet is part of a USA Swimming series prior to this year’s Olympics in London.
“This is the last year of my career — the last four months of my competitive career,” Phelps told a throng of about 75 elementary school children. “My swimming career is coming to an end, but my goals are still so big.”
Phelps told the youngsters that his rise to Olympic glory began in Indianapolis.
“I made my first Olympic team here,” he noted.
That was in 2000 when, at age 15, Phelps qualified for his first Olympic team at the Indianapolis Natatorium. He was the youngest member of the US men’s swim team at the Sydney Games.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Phelps went on to win six gold and two bronze medals. Four years later in Beijing he earned an Olympic-record eight gold medals.
“I still wake up in the morning and pinch myself,” he said.
Although a middle school teacher once told him he would never be successful, Phelps said he achieved greatness by being objective-oriented.
“I started at a very young age. I began with small goals,” he explained. “I spent a lot of time in the water. But I had to do it to accomplish my goal.”
Phelps encouraged the youths to write down their own aims.
“Your goal should be something that gets you going in the morning,” he said. “I’m 26, and I still have goals. I leave them where I can see them. I still have things I want to accomplish.”
Several members of the audience held up hand-drawn posters of gold medals, the linked Olympic Rings, and of the swimming great himself. When Phelps offered to field questions, a girl asked why he wanted to retire.
“Growing up, I said to myself I didn’t want to swim past 30,” he answered. “Swimming’s a lot harder now. My body’s different. I don’t recover as quickly. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed.”
But after spending some time with his dogs and playing Call of Duty, Phelps said, “it’s back into the pool. When I hang up my suit, my cap and goggles, I want to say, ‘I’ve done everything I want to do.'”
Phelps talked about the sacrifices he made en route to Olympic success.
“I’ve been to some of the coolest cities in the world,” he said, “but all I’ve seen is the hotel and the pool.”
When he’s through swimming, Phelps hopes to go back and see what he’s missed.
He is also committed to charitable endeavors. The non-profit Michael Phelps Foundation promotes swimming and healthy, active lifestyles, especially for youngsters.
Phelps plans to remain active in sports — not in the pool, but on the fairways. “I want to play golf a lot more,” he said.
But Phelps admits that the inner drive that made him one of the all-time Olympic greats would probably carry over onto the links.
“I’m competitive,” he said. “I like to win in everything I do.”