Michael Phelps, Most Decorated Athlete in Olympic History, Beat ADHD Too!

On August 14th at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the age of 31 Michael Phelps won his 23rd Olympic gold, in what looks like being his final Games, in the men’s 4x100m medley relay. His unbelievable success in swimming for the United States has made him the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 23 Olympic medals spanning over three Olympic Games. He has actually competed at four Olympics; however, he did not medal at his first Games in Sydney, Australia. He now has 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze medals!

Michael Phelps became the most decorated athlete in Olympic history at the London 2012 Games! The 27-year-old swimmer had equaled the Russian swimmer, Larisa Latynina’s record of 18 medals earlier the same evening winning a silver in the 200m Butterfly. Then with a gold in the 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay that same evening, it took him to 19 medals, fifteen which are gold. To many parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the story of how Michael Phelps beat ADHD is great news too.

If you remember, Michael PHLEPS is the American  swimming sensation who also dazzled the world at the 2008  Beijing Olympics winning eight gold medals. When Debbie, his mom, speaks of Michael as a young boy many parents can relate to the first part of her son’s life.”Never sat still, never closed his mouth, always asking questions, always jumping from one thing to another. But I just said, “He’s a boy”.

But he was not just being a boy, because at age 9, in fifth grade, her son’s lack of focus and fidgety behavior, was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

In an interview by MICHAEL WINERIP in The New York Times, Debbie Phelps said that as a little boy, he asked 25 zillion questions, always wanting to be the center of attention. If he wasn’t zooming by on his big-wheel tricycle, he was swinging by on monkey bars.

With preschool, teachers complained: Michael couldn’t stay quiet at quiet time, Michael wouldn’t sit at circle time, Michael didn’t keep his hands to himself, Michael was giggling and laughing and nudging kids for attention.

In elementary grades, Michael would disturb other children and could not sit quietly nor focus on schoolwork. Michael was an attention seeker and he used to talk without even thinking once. His teachers used to call him an immature guy.

Michael Phelps Beat ADHD

Michael’s mom, a teacher, noticed that he would be calmer if his activities were tightly organized like the swimming group he belonged to. The sport of swimming is very disciplined. I know very well as my three children have been on swim teams. Even though it is an individual sport, there is great camaraderie at practices and around the pool at swim meets. The swimmers feel they owe it to their swim team, their coach and to themselves to improve their personal best times by practicing daily and by living a healthy life.

Michael Phelps, Most Decorated Athlete in Olympic History, Beat ADHD Too!My swimmers were driven to channel all their energies and stay focused to shave off those few precious seconds. Early morning practices and some days repeating the same thing after school burns a lot of pent up energy. Swimmers must make the most of every minute at school. With many weekend swim meets, daily practices meaning early bedtimes, swimmers do not want to end up with a lot of homework.  Swimmers must learn to organize and prioritize to survive!

For two years Michael was treated with medications, Ritalin (methylphenidate)  a central nervous system stimulant. It affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control.

As Michael recalls in his autobiography “No Limits: The Will to Succeed”, Phelps felt humiliated in front of his friends when the school nurse came to find him in class to remind him to take his Ritalin. “He had to go to the school nurse’s office to take a pill at lunch,” Debbie Phelps said, “and felt stigmatized. Out of the blue, he said to me: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, Mom. My buddies don’t do it. I can do this on my own.” With all the support he had, Michael Phelps decided to beat ADHD in a different way.

In a post titled,”From ADHD Kid to Olympic Gold Medalist” by Marilyn Wedge, PhD. we read: “Michael weaned himself off the medication with his doctor’s support, and learned to use the power of his mind to focus on his school work and control himself in the classroom. At this point, his teacher told his mother that her son would never succeed at anything because he couldn’t focus on anything for a long enough time. His mother, too, was skeptical that her son could do well without the Ritalin. Defying his teacher’s and his mother’s grim predictions, Michael Phelps went on to become the most decorated athlete in the history of the Olympics. He had found in vigorous and disciplined swimming a solution for the nervous energy that made him jumpy and fidgety.”

By 11, Michael, was managing his ADHD without medication. Michael’s parents tried behavior modification. Debbie Phelps said,”When you look at the sport of swimming, it’s very regimented. There’s time management built into that component, there’s set things you do sequentially.”

Ms. Phelps watched the boy who couldn’t sit still at school sit for four hours at a meet waiting to swim his five minutes’ worth of races. At the Beijing Olympics, Michael won eight gold medals, breaking the 1972 record set by fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz.

For children with ADHD who do not have the swimming, the teacher mom, the coaches, the behavior management programs, and support that Michael Phelps had,  professional help and medication should be considered because their lives and school work and their parents’ lives and homework can be made much easier.

Do you know a child with ADHD who became more disciplined by adding a passionate activity to his life?

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