By Sharon Robb
April 3, 2020—Michael Phelps, one of the greatest athletes of all-time, has great insight and first-hand experience when it comes to athletes’ mental health.
The world record holder and Olympic gold medalist has been a public advocate for mental health and has talked openly about his own struggles.
Phelps said the coronavirus lockdown is hard for anyone, but for athletes including swimmers, there is an extra mental strain to go from a highly active lifestyle of training and competing to isolation and boredom.
The most decorated athlete in Olympic history had a mentally tough time after the 2012 London Olympics Games. He was arrested for drunk driving and ended up battling depression and anxiety. He was suspended by USA Swimming and he spent nearly two months in rehab.
Phelps, 34, married with two sons, is now involved with several business ventures and swimwear company.
“Your whole life is based on the play and then you get an unexpected turn of events,” Phelps said. “Mental health is of the utmost importance.
“As athletes, we’re so regimented,” Phelps said. “At this point, all the work is done. We’re just fine-tuning the small things to get to this point. Now it’s like, ‘Oh … we’re not competing.’ All these emotions start flaring up. I really think mental health is so important right now.”
Phelps said the key is keeping things as simple as possible.
“Just control what you can control,” he said. “We’re in such uncharted waters. We’re getting all these big questions thrown at us: What if? What if? What if? It’s so hard to understand. We’re having a hard time just wrapping our head around it.”
While stay-at-home orders in effect across the country can take their toll on swimmers and other athletes of all ages, experts recommend athletes stick to routines, focus on what can be controlled and use their extra time for a hobby or online virtual training with their coaches and trainers to maintain their mental health.
Phelps also feels for Olympians and Olympic hopefuls who had their dream of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics put on hold and now rescheduled for 2021.
“There’s such a wave of emotions,” Phelps said. “Honestly, my first thought was I was relieved (about the postponement). Now, there’s more of a chance that we can beat this thing and do what we need to do to save as many lives as possible.”
Phelps is also among some of the world’s greatest athletes that have joined together to create “Athletes For Relief” raising money for COVID-19 response efforts.
Phelps has joined Steph Curry, Simone Biles, Jack Nicklaus, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Hawk and more than 100 athletes for disaster philanthropy to support those impacted by the pandemic.
The athletes and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy have launched AthletesRelief.org. The athletes have donated signed memorabilia for fans to bid on through May 1.
Unlike a typical auction, all fans who donate a minimum of $25 for an item will be entered into a raffle at the end of the campaign. All proceeds will go to Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which is supporting frontline healthcare workers and clinics, food security, and distribution of needed products, with a focus on assistance to vulnerable communities.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com