In a recent interview with the New York Times, Deborah Phelps, middle school principal and mother of Michael, the most medaled Olympian in history, remembers how her son’s elementary school teacher once told her, “Your son will never be able to focus on anything.” Michael Phelps was big when he was born (9 pounds, 6 ounces), awkward as a kid, and bullied by his classmates. In preschool, his teachers complained that he couldn’t sit still. When Michael was in 5th grade, his mother and family doctor discussed whether Michael might have A.D.H.D.
His parents, now divorced, introduced him and his sisters to competitive swimming early. By age 10, Michael was nationally ranked. Deborah Phelps watched her son, who couldn’t sit still at school, wait patiently for hours at a meet to swim a five-minute race. At 11, Michael was off Ritalin by his own choice and his coach, Bob Bowman, was already predicting greatness. Bowman, who still coaches Michael, told the family then that Michael would make the 2004 Olympics and break world records by the 2008 games.
Phelps made it to the 2000 Olympics, four years ahead of Bowman’s prediction. The rest, as we have witnessed, is history. Today, the Phelps name is an adjective, as in “phelpsian,” meaning “dominating in competition.” A gift, most would agree, that requires laser-like focus.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.