How Michael Phelps Is Fighting Against the Stigma of Depression

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A few years ago, I got to hear Michael Phelps speak at a fundraiser for Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children. It was very enthralling and I couldn’t believe the darkness he had gone through on his quest to become the GOAT (Greatest Olympian of All Time). Also, It was special to me because I was present at the groundbreaking for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center held on Frank’s 75th birthday (yes, that Frank!) during my tenure as a PR account executive for Cliff Brown Associates. Today, Phelps continues to work to help others who are battling depression and other mental illnesses. HBO is releasing “The Weight of Gold” documentary starring Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes that details the mental health struggles they experience. Here’s my post about my experience hearing Michael Phelps open up about his battle with depression:

I sat with my Piranha Swim Team fellow swim moms and Masters swimmers at a fundraiser where Michael Phelps was the keynote speaker.

He had some really good stuff to say and seems incredibly happy with his life. As he said about his comeback from retirement and Rio Olympics, “I got to show the world who I am.”

He said he wouldn’t trade anything in his life because even the struggles have made him who he is today. What an amazing person he is and has become. Not only was he speaking at the Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children, he spent time with our local Piranha swimmers and other high school swimmers before the event. How special will that memory be for those kids? It will definitely be a day they’ll remember forever.

 

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Alex Flanagan interviews Michael Phelps. Photo from Steven Erickson, Piranha Masters swimmer.

Sitting for an interview with NBC’s Alex Flanagan, Michael was relaxed and comfortable. Accompanying him were his wife and baby Boomer, who could be heard crying occasionally in the background.

Phelps said all his many accomplishments and discipline were “all in my heart.” He said, “I started with a goal and a dream. I wanted to do something. I wanted to become the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz.”

When he talked about his darker days and struggles with depression, Phelps explained that he “said affirmations every time he walked through a doorway.” He said, “If you keep track of how many times you walk through doors in a day, it’s a lot.”

He said it’s important to “not be afraid to ask for help and talk about things. You can’t do everything yourself.”

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A lot of his strength, he attributes to his mom Debbie Phelps, who he called “the most powerful mom. She single-handedly raised us. Growing up, I learned about hard work and dedication from her.”

Abut his coach Bob Bowman, “He has been there all the steps of the way. He taught me how to drive. The two of us get along so well. We’ve been together for 20 years.”

On his return to swimming for Olympic Trials and Rio, Phelps recalled that he called Bowman to tell him he wanted to come back. Bowman was skeptical and said it wasn’t going to happen. Phelps waited and called him back the next day, and Bowman agreed so long as he bought into his program and did it completely his way. It worked out well.

With his parents separating when he was young, Phelps found the pool to be an escape. His coach told him to “leave everything at the door and focus on swimming for the time he was there,” whether it was one and half hours or two. “That stuck with me. If you look at anyone great, they find the time to do their best under any circumstance.”

Phelps is enjoying his time as a husband and father and looks forward to a growing family. He’s focused on his brand MP and his foundation that is saving children’s lives through water safety.

Although Phelps Olympic career is over, as the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 medals and 39 world records, he said “The pool is very relaxing for me. It’s very Zen.”

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Our local USA Swimming and high school swimmers meeting Michel Phelps.                      photo from Piranha Swim Team 

 

 

 

Six Things Parents Love About Swim Meets

I wrote this six years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago and it definitely was a different world back then! Today is a good day to remember the good times.

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One of my favorite parts of being a year-round swim parent for the past 14 years has been swim meets. Not home meets, but traveling to meets. Don’t get me wrong, the home meets have their unique qualities that I’m sure I’ll miss — but, travel meets — I’ll definitely miss more.

kat at a meetThis past weekend, we were at a meet in So Cal Thursday through Sunday. Other swim parents posted photos and wrote on Facebook about how much they enjoyed the weekend and meet. My age group swim parenting days are numbered — 40 days and nights to be exact — but who’s counting? With my daughter leaving soon for college, I’m nostalgic about why I and other swim parents love meets. kat meet

My top six reasons why I love swim meets include:

  1. Spending time together.  When you are away for two to five days with your swimmer, you have a captive audience. There’s no distraction of 8 hours at school, followed by 3 hours of swim practice, and hanging out with their non-swim friends. Spending lots of time together, unfettered with household, work, and daily school responsibilities is refreshing. Enjoy your little bubble of time, treat it like a mini-vacation. Play cards, sing songs, go to the beach, have fun! You’ll look back on these days as precious memories.kat girls
  2. Nap time. When your swimmer is older, and in age groups that have prelims and finals, you’ll find yourself in your hotel — with your swimmer — for three to four hours in the middle of the day. Your swimmer needs to be off their feet and resting, so going to the beach isn’t a good choice. Nor is shopping. Bring in lunch, relax, and enjoy some of the best naps you’ll ever have!50Free
  3. Walking. Being at a meet for days on end, without cooking, cleaning, working, etc. allows plenty of time to walk. I walk during warm-ups and warm-downs. I walk with my husband, with friends, and by myself. I look forward to checking out the areas by the pools on foot. Walking gets rid of my nervous energy and walking for hours and miles has to be good for me!kat shelby
  4. Friendships. You’ll spend lots of hours with team parents under the pop-up tent. Mostly, swim parents are generous, encouraging and have the common interest of your team and kids’ successes at heart. I’ve made great friends with parents from other teams and I look forward to seeing them at the away meets. I had a great conversation this past weekend with a parent of another graduating senior. Our daughters are in separate towns, on separate teams, yet they are both swimming in college next year — and going through the same excitements and anxieties. I’ll look forward to seeing these parents in the future, during our college phase of swim meets.kat medals
  5. Watching your swimmer race. What is it about watching your child race that is so rewarding and exciting? I’m not sure, but if you have the answer, please let me know. It’s so exciting when they do well. I love that feeling when I see their hard work pay off and watch their growth as a person and an athlete.kat relays
  6. Sushi. We eat lots of sushi at swim meets. I consider myself a sushi connoisseur and I’ve scouted for the best sushi restaurants near pools throughout Southern California.  My daughter likes to eat sushi at meets, too. It’s healthy, light, provides her with the right fuel to race. My top three favorite Sushi restaurants include: bake-lobster-roll_resize

O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Laguna Beach and Irvine, CAojc_00100_resize

Zen Sushi, Lake Forest, CA, and Orange Roll and Sushi, Fullerton, CA.sunset-laguna-roll_resizeAre you a swim parent, or a sports parent? What are your favorite things about going to away meets?

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Can We Make Our Kids Swim Faster?

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My daughter swimming in college.

“Dad! It Doesn’t Help!” is a sports parenting book to “Become the Ultimate Sports Parent” by Mark A. Maguire. Although the book is based in Australia with a dad figuring out how to be a better sports parent for his son with USA Major League Baseball dreams, I could relate as a swim mom.

Maguire explains in his book: “The title came about after my son used this phrase when I asked him how he feels when I holler out at his baseball games. His response stunned me. His response and my first blog must have stunned a lot of sports parents and coaches, because it was read and shared during 2017 (through the COACH UP website in the USA) over a million times.”

So what did his son say that stunned him? Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

During the baseball season a few years ago I asked my eleven-year-old son what do all the kids in the dugout think when their parents urge them on with instructions and encouragement as they are playing the game?

He said bluntly: “they don’t like it.”

I further pressed him. What about when I call out some last second reminders just before you bat, you know, the things we’ve talked about during the week and to help you remember what to do.

Again, he didn’t mince his words and said, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”

He went on to say: “When I’m in the batter’s box I follow the instructions from my coach. I put myself in the zone to block out every other noise. It doesn’t help me, or any other kid when our parents are yelling things out.”

Okay. That one struck home. As a swim mom who used to search frantically for my kids before each one of their races to impart some last minute instructions, I am frankly a bit embarrassed. I honestly thought that whatever wisdom I was going to tell them right before they got on the blocks was helpful. Not only helpful but would be the determining factor on whether or not they won their heat, got their coveted cut to the big meet, and would earn a college scholarship. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit with the outcomes, but I thought they wouldn’t do as well without my input.

In truth, I was probably a distraction. An annoyance. A royal pain in the behind. My stress level was running high, I was climbing over parents, pushing through crowds to grab my kids and do our little last minute good luck ritual. Ugh. Yes, that was me. Eventually I calmed down. Or at least I wasn’t so obvious about my nerves—and let the coaches coach while I sat in the stands or at the end of their lanes and cheered.

I asked my daughter what she thought when we yelled and screamed for her. We’d yell at the top of our lungs “Kick!” “Keep your head down!” or my husband’s favorite “Go now!” — like she wasn’t doing all those things without us screaming. It’s funny today looking back at it. I wonder if she heard us when she was under water. She said, “Yes, dad is really loud. But it didn’t help.”

I do think cheering has some small affect on our kids’ sports. It shows our enthusiasm for the sport. Cheering helps us release tension. And it shows we care.

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Teammates cheering at PAC-12 Women’s Championships.

What things have you done as a sports parent that you’d never dream of doing today?

That time I signed myself up for nationals

Three years ago in April, I signed up for US Masters Nationals — for myself to swim. It was very courageous of me because I’m not a very good swimmer. I went way outside of my comfort zone — which I’m definitely not doing now. I miss the pool with my friends during day 41 of the Coronavirus Shut Down. I decided to take a look at my one big swim moment. I was scared to death and I don’t know if I’d do this again, but I lived to talk about it! I also got to share the experience with my best swim friends, coach and family.

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US Masters Meet in January at our Palm Springs pool.

In a little less than two weeks, I’ll be swimming in another meet. This one will be my second meet in my two-year swim career. I attended a meet a few months ago, but right before it was my turn on the blocks, the pool was closed. The transformer was hit during an accident and the power to the pool went out. I haven’t decided whether that was a good thing or not that I didn’t have to dive off the blocks and swim.

This time is a little more frightening because of the name of the meet: US Masters Nationals. Yes, I said NATIONALS! Six swimmers from our Piranha Masters have signed up and I get nervous when I think about it. There are more than 2,000 attending.

My coach says not to think about it, but just show up and swim.

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My daughter at a swim meet with her best friend and coach.

I made the mistake of looking at the psych sheets and names like RYAN LOCHTE and NATHAN ADRIAN popped out at me! Who do I think I am to be signed up for this meet? I’m seeded dead last in my events by a lot—in my age group. However, there are swimmers ages 18 to 95, so maybe I should focus on picking off the swimmers 90 and above.

Swimming at this meet does make me more than anxious, so I have to remember what I would tell my kids and other swim parents:

ONE
Don’t worry about other people’s times. That’s right. I cannot control the fact that my friend Bonnie is 20 seconds faster than me in the 50 free. Yes, 20 SECONDS!

TWO
Relax and have fun. Yes, I’ll have so much fun with all my friends and watch great swimmers. I don’t want to freeze or panic in the middle of my 50 free and have to be dragged out of the pool. That would not be fun.

THREE
Try your best. I’ve put in the hard work. I’ve made it to practice for more than a year since my first meet. I can flip turn and dive off the blocks without hitting the bottom of the pool. I can do this. 

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My son (front) with swim buddies at a meet having fun.

P.S. My daughter, who’s a swimmer in college, will be home that weekend. She told me she plans on driving me to the meet, will stand at the blocks holding my towel, and will make sure I talk to our head coach Jeff Conwell before and after each event! Somehow, I think she’s looking forward to this more than I am!

What have you done that was outside your comfort zone? Would you do it again?

 

Parent Tip: Follow Your Own Advice

I wrote this during my daughter’s freshman year at college. I was transitioning from age group/high school swim mom to college swim mom. I loved all my swim mom years, but the freshman year was super exciting because of all the “firsts.”
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I’ve written several articles about not focusing on your swimmer’s times.

I have a confession to make: I have been so worried about my daughter’s times this year. She was adding 30 seconds to her 1,000 and mile. And more than 15 seconds on her 500. I believe she was swimming times she had as a 13-14 year old and she’s a freshman in college!

Open Water Nats at Lake Castaic, July 2014. Photo by Anne Lepesant.

Open Water Nats at Lake Castaic, July 2014. Photo by Anne Lepesant.

Trust the coach. I have written that more than a few times. My husband and I tried to relax and not worry. But, why was she swimming so slow? I’ll admit it. I was freaking out.

The freshman year is a big adjustment. She not only had to get used to living away from home for the first time, i.e. taking care of the daily aspects of her life and school. She also had a major change in her workouts, was training at altitude, and started weight training.

At one of her last dual meets of the season, the head coach told us that Kat was doing very well. That the coaches could see the progress she was making in practice. That was reassuring to us. After all, we never watched her in practice. We only saw her in dual meets. And saw those times…

Two weeks later we were at her conference meet. It was shaved and tapered time. She got a best time in the 500 by two seconds. This was the first drop she had in that event in almost two years. Then she swam the mile and dropped a whopping 16 seconds.

But, who’s focusing on times? It’s more important that my daughter loves her teammates, her coaches, her classes and is having fun. Right?

Like I said before. Trust the coach. Don’t focus on the times.

Practice at the home pool.

Practice at the home pool.

Have you ever not followed the advice you give to other parents? 

Looking Back on My First PAC-12 Meet

 

Olympic swimmers competing at the PAC 12s.

Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin competing at the PAC 12s.

Five years ago in February, my daughter swam in her first of four PAC-12 Championship meets. It’s fun to look at my thoughts and remember the excitement of the experience.

1.  I couldn’t believe the conference meet was here already. What happened to my daughter’s first year of college swimming?

2.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find a seat. Coming from age group meets that are crawling with kids and parents and you have to squeeze to get a seat, it was a pleasant change. However, it did get more packed as the days passed and always at finals.

The crowd at the PAC 12s.

The stands at the PAC 12s.

3.  I still get nervous before Kat swims. Maybe it’s even worse than before. Especially at prelims. I thought I’d get over that queasy feeling, hand-shaking, palm-sweating attack. But, no I did not.

4.  I wanted to spend a little time with Kat. But, she’s on the deck with her team, and we’re up in the stands with the parents.

That's me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

That’s me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

5.  I have met some great swim parents on our new team. Don’t get me wrong, there are great families on our club team that I’m life long friends with. I’m thrilled to meet parents on the college team that are friendly and fun, too. I guess that’s what swimming parents are like.

6.  It’s fun to cheer at the PAC-12 conference, hold up signs, and wave pom poms. Kat would have killed me if I behaved that way at an age group meet!

7.  Now that it’s the last day of PAC-12s, I’m shocked at how fast the days went by. Do I really have to wait an entire year to experience this again?

8.  Looking down from the bleachers at my daughter, I’m amazed at how much she’s matured this year. She’s happy and comfortable with her new family, her college team. She has grown independent from us and she’s doing really, really well. I’m happy and proud, but I’m wiping a few tears from eyes, too.photo 2 (1)

What’s the Big Difference Between College and Age Group Champs?

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Teammates and coaches cheering my daughter on during the mile.

I enjoyed talking with one of my children’s former coaches this morning about championship meets. My question was what can parents do — or not do — to help their kids at the big meets. Coach Tim Hill, now of the SHARKS Swim Club in the Houston area, asked me what it was like at the PAC 12 championship meets sitting in the stands, compared to the big meets during our club years. He’s clever that way to get me to think about it myself rather than telling me the answers.

The big difference was rooting as a team with the other parents at the college championships. The scoreboard has our teams listed in order of points and you can’t avoid it. We were competitive not with the top teams on the scoreboard, but the ones right above and below us. The parents of each college dress up in school colors, have props like light-up necklaces and pompoms and create team cheers. We’d have a pre-finals function with drinks and snacks in the hotel lobby. When our kids walked through the lobby to get on their buses or vans, we’d perform our team cheer and make a tunnel for them to go through. It was fun and filled with laughter embarrassing the heck out of our kids.

We cheered for each other’s kids, felt disappointment when someone didn’t have a good swim together as a team. Up in the stands, we watched our kids cheer for each other, on their feet on deck or at the blocks, rooting and caring sincerely how their teammates swam. Yes, we wanted our kids to get best times and make it to A finals, but there was less focus on that than being part of a team.

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With my fellow swim moms at the PAC 12 Championships.

At USA Swimming meets, the focus was on individual swims and the team score wasn’t as important or often didn’t exist. We definitely cheered for each other’s kids, but it wasn’t as intensely a team experience as the college meets. The focus was on our own children. We wanted them to get personal bests, improve and get that cut.

At age group meets, Tim explained that parents have a lot of expectations because they’ve got “blood and money” invested. “It’s your baby and your money.” Often meets are away and you’re paying for hotels, plus the suits and entry fees. It adds up, not to mention the family’s time commitment, and if our children aren’t improving, we want to know why.

Tim also explained that swimming is a lot like real life and there are a lot of variables. The stock market doesn’t go straight up, for example. We aren’t 100% every day in our jobs or relationships — and our children aren’t going to get best times at every meet. Our children may be tired from homework, not feeling well or not on their game. He discovered that Tuesday afternoon duel meets for high school, kids may swim better than at USA meets on a weekend. They’re fresher for one thing. By the weekend, the kids may be tired after a week of school, practices and homework. Also, it’s a race with winners and losers. There’s immediate feedback. They may go to a USA meet and be seeded 80th and wonder if they even want to swim because they know they don’t have a shot at finals.

Parents need to be supportive and not start questioning in the stands if the taper was right, if another kid is getting more attention from the coach or why their child isn’t improving. If we are questioning the coach in front of our kids, they will start to lose confidence. So much of swimming is feeling confident, Tim said.  If we focus too much on performance and don’t realize it’s a process with ups and downs, we may put too much pressure on our kids. When the meet is over and we still have questions about “why” then go directly to the source. Ask the coach questions at the right time.

Tim mentioned that there’s a lot more opportunity for kids to improve during daily practice than at a monthly meet. When asked by a swimmer if Tim thought he could break 50 seconds in the 100 free, Tim asked him, “What have you been doing in practice to get there?”

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Cheering for teammates.

What differences do you see between college and age group meets?