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Michael Phelps launches mental health campaign

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Michael Phelps was hanging at the pool on Tuesday.

No, he’s not planning another comeback.

He’s got a bigger goal to tackle.

Mental health.

After revealing the depths of his depression — and even thoughts of suicide after his second drunken-driving arrest — Phelps is hoping to make a difference for those who are dealing with similar issues.

The 23-time Olympic gold medalist announced a partnership with Talkspace, which provides online therapy, and said he considers it a higher calling than anything he ever did as a swimmer.

“Somebody told me yesterday about his daughter going through a very, very deep depression and not really wanting to be alive,” Phelps said in an interview with The Associated Press. “She read stories about me opening up. He told me how much that helped her. For me, that’s way bigger than ever winning gold medals. The chance to potentially save a life, to give that person an opportunity to grow and learn and help someone else, there’s nothing better in life.”

Despite his unprecedented success as an athlete, Phelps went through plenty of dark moments.

His first DUI arrest came when he was just 19, a few months after he won six gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics. He was briefly suspended after a picture emerged of him smoking from a marijuana pipe after his record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. He struggled to get motivated heading into the 2012 Olympics.

But his low point came in 2014, after he abandoned retirement to compete in a fifth Olympics only to be arrested again for driving under the influence. He checked into an Arizona rehab clinic and finally realized just how much he was hurting — so much so, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go on living.

“I thought it would make things easier,” Phelps recalled. “I almost felt like it would be better for everybody if I wasn’t there. But the more I thought about it, I wanted to find a different route. I wanted to see if I could find some help. I wanted to see if I could get better.”

Phelps said he’s in a much better place these days. He’s happily married and living in suburban Phoenix with two small children, 2-year-old Boomer and 3-month-old Beckett. He’s satisfied with his career, saying there’s nothing left to accomplish at the pool.

But there are times that he struggles with depression and anxiety.

He figures it will be that way for the rest of his life.

“I still go through times that are very challenging. I do break down and maybe have a bad day, where I’m not in a good mental state,” Phelps said. “I understand that. It’s who I am. I guess that will always be something that’s a part of me.”

He hopes that his deal with Talkspace, which helps connect those in need with therapists through a variety on online conduits, will help to remove some of the stigma associated with mental health — especially for those who are reluctant to seek out help in person or may not have the financial means.

Phelps said mental health is especially important when suicide rates are on the rise and a rash of school shootings have rocked the United States.

“I feel like with all the issues we have in this world, this is something where I can truly make significant impact,” he said.

The 32-year-old Phelps has kept himself in good condition since Rio. He rides a bike nearly every day and still works out at the pool at least twice a week. When he stepped on the scales Monday, he weighed 192 pounds — 3 pounds less than he was at his last Olympics.

“Could I come back? Yes,” he said. “I think it would be even easier than it was in 2014 (when he officially ended his first attempt at retirement). I’m in better shape now than I was then.”

But, with those tantalizing words, Phelps quickly struck down any thought of returning to competitive swimming.

He simply doesn’t have any motivation to add to his record haul.

“Would I like to break a world record? Yeah, obviously,” Phelps said. “But I also know what I did to prepare for Rio. I thought I did a pretty damn good job of getting myself ready to go. I didn’t want any what-ifs 20 years down the road. Twenty years down the road, I won’t have that. I’ll be able to say I was happy with how I finished my career. I was happy to be able to have my family there, to have my first-born there to watch. I’ll have those memories forever.

“All good things must come to an end eventually. That was the best way to go out.”

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Michael Phelps, under an alias, finds new competitive outlet; Q&A

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps sat down for a Q&A on Thursday while visiting to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign …

(condensed and lightly edited)

OlympicTalk: I watched your CNBC interview today, and you mentioned being on the bike. It reminded me of a Men’s Journal interview you did last year where you mentioned doing a competitive spin class. Is biking your primary form of exercise now?

PHELPS: It’s all I do. I pound it. I went 30 straight days on the bike. (Pulls out phone to look up statistics) 500 miles in 30 days, 1,100 minutes and 28,000 calories. I was just basically at the point I just was like, I’m just going to grind for a month and see what happens. Somebody said, what are you going to do after that month? Probably keep going. I like having that competition on the bike. I ride a Peloton, so I ride in classes. I have an alias. No one knows it’s me.

That’s something that gets me going because I know how it was in the pool. If I didn’t feel well, if I was tired, this or that, I knew I still had to do it. For me, having that leaderboard on the right-hand side of the screen that tells me where I am in the list drives me a little bit. So it’s now basically I’m probably top five, top 10 percent every single time I’m in there. I just try to push myself. The biggest thing for me now being retired, I know how important it is for me to get that energy out, to be the best version of myself. So I make sure I have to get a workout in six or seven days a week. I mean, I was up this morning at 5:15 to get a workout.

I’d like to get back into lifting a little bit, put some more muscle on, but I’m still not getting back [to competitive swimming], so don’t ask.

Editor’s Note: Thirty straight days of cycling 30 to 60 minutes is nothing for Phelps. For years as a swimmer, he practiced every day. Including Christmas. Including his birthday (sometimes twice on his birthday).

OlympicTalk: Since you brought it up, I have to make sure, you’re not in the drug-testing pool, right?

PHELPS: No. I don’t think I’ll ever get back in that thing.

Editor’s Note: U.S. swimmers who re-enter the drug-testing pool to unretire must wait nine months before returning to competition. Since Phelps is not in the testing pool now, even if he wanted to race this year, he would not be eligible until 2019 in the unforeseen scenario he feels the itch to come back.

OlympicTalk: I’ve never seen you leaner than in yesterday’s Instagram photo.

PHELPS: I’m back around 190 pounds (187 the last time on a scale). I’m less than what I was in Rio, but that’s basically all muscle that I’ve lost. I’ve kept on top of it because, for me, it’s all I know. Basically 20-plus years in the sport, working out every single day. I know how much happier I am when I’m in good shape. I love it. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop. It’s that craziness that I have in my head that I have to work out every day.

OlympicTalk: Any competitive goals in cycling that would cause you to enter a race?

PHELPS: If I could do a triathlon and not do the run, I would instantly do it. Swimming is easy. I still swim a couple of times a month just to get in and splash and see the sun, but I don’t think so [cycling]. I would get my [butt] kicked on the bike. Some of those guys are ridiculous on the road. I wanted to start riding on the road, but I’m not going to get the kind of resistance that I get on my stationary bike. The workout’s going to be different. I love what I do, to be able to sit and take 45 minutes to 90 minutes to be able to get a workout in, get a bike in, to stretch, do some abs outside and call it a day, I’m good.

OlympicTalk: The last time you were here, you mentioned an American swimmer was thinking about a comeback. Was that Allison Schmitt, and what do you think of her coming back this weekend?

PHELPS (nods head): I’m excited for her. She is a sister of mine, and for her being able to come to that point where she knows that she wants to do something to make herself happy and be able to finish how she wants. For me, going through that in 2016, kind of looking back now, two years later, I’m happy I did it. I’m very happy I was able to finish how I wanted to. That’s what I hope for her. I hope she can get to that place. We talk every day about certain little small things that can help her. It will be interesting to see where she’s at this week. I have no idea what to expect. I mean, I’ve heard some things she’s been doing in training. She seems to be having some fun. I know she’s going through some struggles. I just told to her keep grinding. It’s going to get better. It’s going to get easier. Trust me. I went through this. I know. She just wants to get up and race and just do it for her. I’m happy that she’s doing it for the right reasons.

OlympicTalk: We’re coming up on a big anniversary for your career this summer. When I say Beijing Olympics, what’s the first image that pops into your head?

PHELPS: Probably the definition of, like, a perfect meet. ‘07, ‘08 were the two greatest years of my career. So being able to look back and see a lifetime dream, goal of doing something nobody’s ever seen in the Olympic world or swimming in general. It’s what I wanted as a kid. It’s what I dreamed of as a kid. Being able to take Nicole and Booms there after Rio was cool. Going back down those memories and watching some of those races and having some of those moments back into my head was so cool.

Talking about Schmitty, that’s something that I forced her to do. We went back and watched a bunch of different races, trying to pick up on certain stroke things, body position that I had in ‘08 or so many of those swimmers had in ‘08.

OlympicTalk: You mentioned in an Instagram from your return to Beijing, sorry, Nicole and Boomer, for all the tears.

PHELPS: It was emotional being there [in 2016]. It was cool because she wasn’t there [in 2008]. We never really talked about it. Just the moment where I was standing on the blocks. I stood behind every single lane I was in. Did the same walk through when I was walking back through the mixed zone and walking back to the warm-up pool. Just a lot of memories came up. That’s what I prepared for. That whole career was to do something nobody has else had done before. To be able to have that opportunity right in front of my face and to relive all of those memories again, of course brought back tears. Tears of joy to be able to share it with my family.

OlympicTalk: When you stood behind those blocks, which race came back to your mind first?

PHELPS: It’s hard not to bring up the 100 ‘fly [beating Milorad Cavic by one hundredth of a second]. That one, and the close ones you have to bring up first. The French relay was pretty ridiculous, probably one of the greatest relays ever [with Jason Lezak overtaking Alain Bernard on anchor]. The individuals, the 100 ‘fly and probably the 200 free. I think, before Rio, that was probably my greatest race ever. Probably my greatest race ever in my opinion was the 200 ‘fly in Rio. That was the most pain I’ve ever been in. That was the one I wanted the most.

OlympicTalk: Did you save anything from Beijing other than the medals, like the goggles that slipped from the 200 butterfly or a picture of the close finish from the 100 butterfly?

PHELPS: We have photos that we’re putting up when we move into a different house. There are just so many cool moments and memories from that, from those Games. I have every piece of clothing from all Olympics. Going back and looking through some of that stuff is pretty crazy. The goggles, I’m sure I have. I have every suit, every cap that I’ve ever worn in international competition saved, archived. Nothing really stands out, though.

I guess the medals are incredible to look at. Boomer doesn’t really like them, though. I put one around his neck. He didn’t seem too interested in it. He took it right off and handed it right back to me.

OlympicTalk: You’ve been promoting the Every Drop Counts campaign for a while now? What’s the message you’re here to send today?

PHELPS: It has been really cool over the last year or so when people do come up, and they’re like, I think of you when I brush my teeth in the morning, I have to turn the water off. I think it is making a difference of what we are trying to say and what we’re trying to help people understand. Really just, still, being able to think that when you do brush your teeth, that’s four gallons you’re wasting, 64 glasses of water. That’s something so important now, having two kids, whether it’s putting a little sticker that turns red when the water’s on too long for Boomer, for him to see it, for him to learn, it’s kind of cool. He’s at that stage where he picks up and grabs every little small thing that we do and say. That’s something that Nicole and I are really trying to teach him, and hopefully he can pass on to Becks [2-month-old son Beckett].

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VIDEO: Kobe Bryant tries to coax Michael Phelps to unretire

Kobe Bryant tries to coax Michael Phelps to unretire (video)

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Not even Kobe Bryant could entice Michael Phelps to get back in the competition pool.

Bryant, a two-time Olympic champion, egged on Phelps while presenting the female athlete of the year award at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

“Since it never gets old, would you like, just one more time?” Bryant told Phelps on stage (at 68:20 mark here). “Not me. You. You’re in much better shape than I am, dude. You can do it one more time.”

Phelps, as he has done for the last year, dismissed it.

“I’d rather be sitting in the stands during the next one and watching all of you,” Phelps said to the crowd, many of whom were active swimmers.

“All right, then I can save you a seat,” Bryant responded. “Just let me wear one of those medals.

“I got distracted by the gold medals, man. I’m wondering how he puts 28 [Olympic medals] on. I have no idea how that works. It’s crazy to me.”

The retired Lakers star got a first-hand look at an in-his-prime Phelps as a spectator at the 2008 Olympic swimming venue, the Water Cube.

“After seeing my first race in Beijing, I was hooked,” Bryant said.

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