Michael Phelps: ADHD Success Story

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Michael Phelps ADHD Success Story

Michael Phelps, in Olympic circles, is the very definition of legend. He has made history with 28 medals to his name (23 of those gold medals), but of all the obstacles he has overcome to win gold after gold, the biggest inspiration for his drive and determination comes from one of the most unlikely places: ADHD. But how did he use his struggle with focus and turn it into triumph and give him the title of “most decorated  Olympian of all time”? 

Michael Phelps: ADHD Success Story – The Beginning

His kindergarten years showed a struggle with attention and, by his own admission, was a mischief maker who wanted to be the center of attention. A difficult time in kindergarten was only exacerbated when his parents divorced when he was 7. He says about this point in his life; “as I began to grasp that my dad would be away for a long time, I needed something that could grab my attention.” This is where swimming entered his life. 

His sisters swam at a local club so his mother wanted him to try it as well. And you might think that he would take to it like a duck to water, but in fact, he hated it. However, with practice and focus, he found his flow as the act of being in the pool, he says, slowed down his mind where he felt in control. 

When Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD in the 6th grade this didn’t do anything for his middle school education. He still couldn’t sit still and fidgeted in class, however, it was the pool after school where he would truly find his form. In fact, he would swim for 3 hours at the pool after school. And from there, his star just started to burn brighter. 

Michael Phelps: ADHD – Journey to Olympics

He became a nationally ranked swimmer at the age of 10, and after meeting his swim coach, Bob Bowman, at 11 he found the person that gave him winning potential by giving him determination and focus. Once he reached the Olympics in 2000 at the age of 15, this started a winning streak where he won at every summer Olympic games event up until he retired from swimming in 2016.

Michael Phelps is the perfect example of someone who was almost left behind due to his ADHD. A teacher told his mother, Debbie Phelps, “your son will never be able to focus on anything.” And for any parents with kids with ADHD, it can feel like you are clutching at straws because you just want them to find something they can absorb themselves in. Swimming was the thing that he latched onto, but he has said many times that the success is due to his mother. 

For anybody to excel at anything, it requires focus, dedication, and perseverance (which are rarely associated with ADHD). When teachers were quick to highlight his lack of educational skills, it was always his mother that came to his defense by countering any statements. As his mother, Debbie, said “whenever a teacher would say, ‘Michael can’t do this,’ I’d counter with, ‘well, what are you doing to help him?’”

The fact that Michael got so far is a testament to his mother, but also to the fact that anybody who has extreme ADHD and has had everybody give up on them can achieve anything. When he was diagnosed with ADHD, he was prescribed medication but, more importantly, his mother established a home based routine while giving him strategies, and this is crucial for any child who gets diagnosed with ADHD.

Phelps says that ADHD has made him the person he is today. He says it was a challenge and a struggle but he is grateful that it made him be who he is. “I look at myself every day and I’m so proud and so happy of who I am and who I was able to become.” 

In life, we’re all going to experience challenges. Michael Phelps is an advocate for parents and children who have challenges with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He is living proof that, whatever the obstacles, you can overcome anything that you think you can. 

ADHD has been a defining part of his life and he has used it to his advantage. He realized that it is something anyone can rise to, as long as they apply themselves. 

Any child with ADHD can apply themselves when they find the right practice, and this is why sports and ADHD go so well together, because of the energy expenditure while also being something that gives people purpose.

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