Every four years, it comes back around—The Summer Olympic Games.
Whether you’re a sports fanatic or not, surely you know Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. Swimming in four Olympic games, Phelps has racked up 22 medals—18 of which are gold.
He was only 15 years old when he first made the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, Australia. In 2004 He competed in Athens where he won six gold and two bronze medals. Phelps returned to the 2008 games to compete in Beijing, China where he took home a record eight gold medals. His most recent Olympics were in 2012 in London, where he won six more medals total—four of which were gold.
London also marked a first in Phelps’ Olympic career. 2012 was the first time he failed to medal in one of his events—placing fourth in the 400 Individual Medley.
His success has made his name, popularity and fan-base stretch far and wide. But even the greatest success has a way of destroying things.
In September of 2014, Phelps had reached a point of no return.
“I was a train wreck,” Phelps told ESPN. “I was like a time bomb, waiting to go off. I had no self-esteem, no self-worth. There were times where I didn’t want to be here. It was not good. I felt lost.”
Around this time, photos began to emerge across the internet and social media of Phelps smoking marijuana and drinking heavily. He was arrested on two separate occasions for drunk driving. After one encounter with the cops, he spent days wallowing in his bedroom, where he contemplated suicide.
That’s when God stepped in. Through his Christian friend and NFL star, Ray Lewis, Phelps’ life took a dramatic turn. Lewis gave him a call and told him, “This is when we fight. This is when real character shows up. Don’t shut down. If you shut down we all lose.”
Through their conversation, Lewis was able to convince Phelps to seek help at the Meadows, a behavioral rehab facility outside of Phoenix. He also gave him a copy of Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.
After checking into rehab, he began reading and it wasn’t long before Phelps called up Lewis and said, “Man this book is crazy! The thing that’s going on…oh my gosh…my brain, I can’t thank you freaking enough, man. You saved my life.”
Phelps said the book radically transformed his life.
“I started believing there is a power greater than myself, and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”
Through reading and chasing after Jesus, Warren’s book also convinced Phelps to reconcile with his estranged father, Fred. He’d divorced his wife when the swimmer was only nine years old. In their first time seeing each other after years of separation, they embraced each other in an incredible hug.
Phelps stayed at the Meadows facility through November 2014. He left a changed man, running after Christ, and continued to pursue his training for the 2016 Rio Olympics. This will be the fifth Olympic games of his career.
Phelps has now spent more than half of his life either in or training for the Olympic games. His success got the best of him and brought him to some seriously low points, but with the help of great Christian community, and of course, God, he’s pulled his way through.
We’re excited to see Phelps wow audiences across the global arena when he appears in Rio 2016.