October 2020

You are ordinary or extraordinary depending on your attitude towards the situations that you face and how you respond to the challenges in life.Chinmaya

The attitude of the extraordinary is: “The question is not who is going to let me, but who is going to stop me!”

This is the story of the most successful and ‘the most decorated Olympian of all times’ – Michael Phelps. In Olympic history, in any game, in any country, no one ever has won medals like him. He participated in four Olympics and won 28 medals out of which 23 are gold medals!

(Interestingly, in Olympics India also has won 28 medals, but only 9 out of them are gold. And that too in 100 years, in 24 Olympics, in 57 different events, with more than 100 sportspersons participating in each Olympics!!)

Phelps’ life was not devoid of tragedies and challenges.

He was born in 1985 in Baltimore, the U.S., as the youngest of three children. His parents used to quarrel and fight very often, and this had a very negative impact on the tender mind of young Phelps. In 1994, when he was just nine years of age, his parents divorced, and his father left them and remarried later. This shattered the little boy and he often sunk into depression. He was frequently found sitting alone and crying, unable to find love and peace, affection or attention from anyone.

When Phelps was in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – a disease which made a child very restless and unable to concentrate on any subject.  

Swimming, which he had learnt at the age of seven, became a great relief and a blessing to distract his mind from inner conflicts and to exhaust his pent-up energies. He would spend hours together in the swimming pool and this was noticed by coach Bob Bowman. He was quick to notice the hidden talent and tireless passion of this little boy. With the full support of his mother, Bowman started coaching him seriously.

The intense frustration of this boy became an effective tool in the hands of the expert coach Bowman. He directed his energies of unbearable frustration towards achieving noble goals. He trained him harder and harder, all the time inspiring him to dream high and achieve big. He kept inspiring him, “Son, you have all the powers in you. You can break all records. Dream as big as you can dream and anything is possible. Just keep trying…”

These elevating words started working magic in the pure heart of that little boy. The world started to witness the unimaginable talents of little Phelps. Even at the age of 10, he started breaking records in his age group and soon was selected for the national team.

In 2001 World Championship, at the age of 15 years, he became the youngest swimmer to break a world record. In 2004 Olympics in Athens, he won six gold and two bronze medals. Phelps, still a teenager, his performance was the second-best ever at a single Olympics after Mark Spitz, who had won seven gold medals in 1972 Summer Olympics.

After the 2004 Olympics at Athens, Phelps decided to achieve the unachievable.  He made a brave bold announcement, “In 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I will break the record made by Spitz. I will win 8 gold medals!”

Even the greatest swimmers considered the record made by Spitz as unbreakable. People made fun of Phelps. “What does he think of himself? Is he God or what!” He was ridiculed. He became a laughing stock.

But with every criticism and ridicule, he remained silent outward, but more determined inward. Ian Thorpe, the great Australian swimming legend, whom Phelps considered his icon and role model, passed a comment, “I don’t think Phelps is going to achieve it.” Thorpe’s comment had a terrific impact on Phelps. It was like petrol being poured into a raging fire. His determination became even more fierce.

We are reminded of Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers. He told his critics: “Your love makes me strong. Your hate makes me unstoppable!!”

From 2004 till 2008, Phelps began his intense practice. It was self-punishing and torturous. If Mark Spitz had trained for 8 hours every day for four years, Phelps trained every day for 12 hours. Totally cut off from the world, without a break on Sundays or weekdays, birthdays or holidays, he kept on practising.

To quote Swami Vivekananda’s words: “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life. Think of it. Dream of it. Live on it. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of the body reverberate with it. Forget everything else. Then success is sure. All power is within you. You can do anything and everything.”

Phelps did exactly that. Every insult, every word of discouragement showered at him, he wrote it on pieces of paper and stuck it everywhere – on the walls of the bathroom and bedroom, on the wardrobe and on the mirror. These taunting words became the RDX to explode the storehouses of motivation within. Even during those moments of tiredness and exhaustion, he inflamed himself by repeating time and again: “2008 – not 8 medals, but 8 gold medals. Come on. You can. You must… You definitely will…”

The coach Bob Bowman, a strict disciplinarian and a taskmaster, had long back wiped off the term “No” from  Phelps’ mindset. He asked him to practise, with earphones on, with single-pointed focus on his lane – neither left nor right. 

It was then that an unfortunate thing happened in 2007. He incurred a wrist injury – a crack in the bone of the right hand. Doctors warned him, “No practice allowed. Rest is a must to heal. Forget about the Olympics.”

Many voiced their opinion, “Are you mad? You can always try for the next Olympics. Life and health are more important.”

The truth of life is: “If you want something you never had, you have to do something you never did.”

Phelps did something unique. He gave rest to the hands, but meanwhile decided to train only his legs without hands! Thus within a year, his hand recovered, while his legs, trained without the support of hands, became like toughened steel – stronger and swifter! This practice made him almost unbeatable, invincible.

So well said, “While losers find excuses to escape, winners find ways to achieve.”

The 2008 Beijing Olympics started. His fans and foes and the whole world watched with bated breath. “Will he make it?” The events began.  Out of all, the fourth event was a memorable one  – 200-meter butterfly.

The gunshot was heard and he jumped into the pool. An unfortunate thing happened. His goggles cracked. Through the crack, water started leaking into his eyes. The game had already started and now there was no stopping. The gush of water made him literally blind. But thanks to his relentless practice for years, the last 100 meters, though seeing nothing, he swam fiercely, with the guesswork of his past experiences.

And finally after reaching the end-point, when he removed the goggles and saw the scoreboard, he was wonder-struck. He saw-  Phelps= 1.52.03=World Record!

He could not control his tears…

He kept on winning, event after event, gold after gold. None could match his power.

In the seventh event, the 100-meter butterfly, Phelps won by just one-hundredth of a second!

So true: “The law of luck is: The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

And finally, Phelps won the eighth gold medal on Aug 17 in the 4×100 meter medley relay, breaking Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals, which stood since 1972.

Ian Thorpe, Phelps’ role model, who had predicted Phelps can’t do it, was in the gallery watching his performance. After the event, Thorpe came and hugged Phelps and said, “I am so proud of you. Never in my life, I have been so happy to have been proved wrong!”

Phelps broke many world records, and he even made a record of breaking maximum world records………..

Many wonder why they don’t progress spiritually as expected. Let us pause a little while and ponder…

If temporary worldly attainments like Olympics demand such struggle and sacrifice, how much more commitment should we expect from us to attain the permanent spiritual attainment!

But here we are, with faithless seekings and lifeless strivings, with sloppy disciplines and sleepy meditations,  we dream to attain the Infinite and the Immortal!

It is well said:

“Many want it to happen. Some wish it would happen. A rare few make it happen.”

O   M         T   A   T         S   A   T

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