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 

 

 

 

Day 55 Shelter in Place: Good and Bad News

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The park.

First the good news. Things are opening up a little bit in our county and my daughter and I played tennis two mornings in a row. Prior to this week, the tennis courts were padlocked. I found that almost as annoying as the pool being closed. It looks so wrong to see padlocks and yellow tape wrapping around our park, parking lots, playground equipment, etc.

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Before we became a full-on swim family, my kids took tennis lessons. My daughter was at preschool at the time and two of her good friends were taking lessons with her. My son had his buddies in his group as well. The instructor was a big goofy tennis pro who the kids called “Charlie Farlie.”

I took lessons in high school with my mom at the University of Washington, some sort of fun extension class. It was in the Hutchinson gym and there were huge windows up several stories in height. My mom and I both managed to hit the ball out those windows — several times — and we weren’t even trying! I’m mentioning this because my daughter and I do have some sort of background in tennis, although we’re hardly proficient at it.

Brick north face of Hutchinson Hall on Stevens Way East. The building hosts the School of Drama, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA. The 1926 building (architects Bebb & Gould) was named for long-time faculty member Mary Gross Hutchinson,

Hutchinson Hall where my mom and me took tennis. t

Fast forward to when we decided to homeschool my daughter for middle school. We had several homeschool families on the swim team and I envied their schedules. There were no late nights after practice completing pages of math problems or filling out worksheets for them. These homeschooled kids were really smart, well behaved and looked so happy. So we gave it a whirl. We went through a phase where we started our day with a bike ride around the park, played tennis together and then returned home to hit the books.

This week brought me back to those days. We had fun reminiscing about them and laughed at our bad shots while enjoying the cool mornings. I got a better workout than I do walking around the park. I got my heart rate up because my tennis is mostly running to corners of the court to pick up balls.

Now for the bad news. The city may not open up the pool. It’s been closed since shelter in place began 55 days ago. I was going to write a letter to the city to complain when our team was no longer allowed to use the pool, but individuals could lap swim. By the time I was composing my scathing letter, the pool had closed altogether.IMG_9355

Our town’s main industry is tourism. The hotels have been shuttered along with vacation rentals for two months. There’s no way to enjoy our beautiful weather, golf courses, tennis courts and hiking trials unless you are a resident. That means the city budget is devastated. Along with the pool, the city is talking about closing the library, animal shelter and cutting salaries, too.

We have one of the most gorgeous pools in state. Our Piranha Swim Team has a history of more than 50 years — one of the longest running teams in California. The kids who go through the program can swim in college if they choose. I think our success rate of kids going on to the next level is close to 90 percent. It was the single best thing we did for our kids in terms of activities. They were Piranhas from age five until they went to college. My daughter represented Piranhas in the summer after she went to college. I can go on and on about how great the team was for my kids, and now for me as a swimmer, too. It helped develop their healthy lifestyles, competitive spirits, and their character.

I’ll be devastated is the pool doesn’t reopen.

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If only I could jump in again!

Five years ago, I joined US Masters swimming. I swam with the team I’d been a part of for 15 years as a swim mom. I wanted to try Masters for years, but I was too chicken. Finally, I jumped in. I wrote about my first day of practice five years ago this week:

 

Palm Springs Aquatic Center where my kids spent their youth.

The home town pool.

I tried something new this week. I’ve been thinking about it for months. In fact, it made my New Year’s Resolution list. Yet, it took me until April to get started.

I joined masters! Yes, I got in the water with a group of strangers and a coach. This is the first time I’ve been in a pool with a swim coach since I was 10 years old. It brought back a few scary memories from my childhood. Like, not being able to breathe during a 200 meter freestyle test, where I had to swim four long laps in a row. I think I was around 7 years old and I thought I’d never make it. I was pretty good at the sidestroke though, so I switched to that, and the coach let me get away with it.

oldswimI gasped for air on Tuesday, my first day. I began breath-holding and I thought I’d sink. I also was sure I’d be kicked out of the pool, I was that bad. Or, that I’d drown. The coach assured me he’s never kicked anyone out of masters, nor has he lost a swimmer. It appears my fears were unfounded.

It got better. The coach gave me a drill to work on my breathing and I worked through it. I went back again on Thursday and will try again today. One of the satisfying things about swimming is you can make progress pretty quickly. Hopefully, my strength will come, too. I feel like a weakling—which I am. If I stick with it, I’m bound to get stronger. I’m talking a friend into joining me, too.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

Another benefit of swimming is that it makes you so tired! I’m definitely sleeping through the night, after I swim.

Sometimes it’s fun to try something completely new. Get out of your comfort zone and you’ll find out it’s not that scary out there after all.

Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Take a painting or dance class. Go to a movie alone. Hike. Whatever it is on your list, give some new things a try. It’s not too late and you might have fun.477145_10200347112424226_867714522_o

Jump in with both feet and get wet!

To swim or not to swim.

To swim or not to swim.

I cannot wait for the pool to open and for my Masters group. I want to see my swim friends, coaches, and experience the wonderful feeling of floating and moving through the water.

What do you miss most during the shelter in place?

New Year’s Resolution Going on Five Years!

Palm Springs Aquatic Center where my kids spent their youth.

The home town pool.

Five years ago in April, I joined Masters. It was my New Year’s Resolution, but it took me months to get up my nerve and dive in. This year, my number one resolution is to get back to consistency with my swimming. I’m starting with three days a week, rain or shine. I went way backwards thanks to my eye surgeries this fall and my ski accident two years ago. I am sporadic at best.

Yesterday, I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my Piranha Masters in a swim-a-thon for Angel View Crippled Children’s Homes. It’s a nonprofit that doesn’t take tax dollars and provides homes and care for people who are too intellectually disabled to live at home. They have a home for life. I’m so proud that our Masters raised more than $20,000! It was a special way to start the year and be part of something so good. What a way to start a new decade!

Here’s the story I wrote in 2015 about joining Masters:

I tried something new this week. I’ve been thinking about it for months. In fact, it made my New Year’s Resolution list. Yet, it took me until April to get started.

I joined masters! Yes, I got in the water with a group of strangers and a coach. This is the first time I’ve been in a pool with a swim coach since I was 10 years old. It brought back a few scary memories from my childhood. Like, not being able to breathe during a 200 meter freestyle test, where I had to swim four long laps in a row. I think I was around 7 years old and I thought I’d never make it. I was pretty good at the sidestroke though, so I switched to that, and the coach let me get away with it.

oldswimI gasped for air on Tuesday, my first day. I began breath-holding and I thought I’d sink. I also was sure I’d be kicked out of the pool, I was that bad. Or, that I’d drown. The coach assured me he’s never kicked anyone out of masters, nor has he lost a swimmer. It appears my fears were unfounded.

It got better. The coach gave me a drill to work on my breathing and I worked through it. I went back again on Thursday and will try again today. One of the satisfying things about swimming is you can make progress pretty quickly. Hopefully, my strength will come, too. I feel like a weakling—which I am. If I stick with it, I’m bound to get stronger. I’m talking a friend into joining me, too.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

My daughter with her first swim instructor.

Another benefit of swimming is that it makes you so tired! I’m definitely sleeping through the night, after I swim.

Sometimes it’s fun to try something completely new. Get out of your comfort zone and you’ll find out it’s not that scary out there after all.

Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Take a painting or dance class. Go to a movie alone. Hike. Whatever it is on your list, give some new things a try. It’s not too late and you might have fun.477145_10200347112424226_867714522_o

Jump in with both feet and get wet!

To swim or not to swim.

To swim or not to swim.

 

What new activities are you going to try for 2020? What’s your number one New Year’s Resolution?

In a divided era, take time to be grateful!

I received an amazing email from one of our former Piranha head coaches, Tim Hill, who is now coaching in Texas. He has some great words of wisdom that in our heated political elections, I think are important for all of us to read–regardless which “team” you’re rooting or fighting for. He’ll be sharing his thoughts–and a SwimSwam article of mine–with his team. I think his thoughts about gratitude and our common goals are worth posting for more people to read, too. (FYI, I wrote this post November 2018. Nothing has changed. Let’s make it change.)

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I’m grateful to swim in a beautiful pool with my team.

Family & Friends,

Last night I stayed awake (probably because I hadn’t worked out physically in three to four days, which is never good for me) thinking about all that is going on in our world/country, and my daily environment of working with a great cross-section of people, and most importantly our young people. Coming back from a 2.5 hour Senior meet where each of the swimmers did something well, I realized it wasn’t perfect, but I saw progress of young people engaged and challenging themselves. (I went with a small group of five before our hosted Shark meet of 600 swimmers & many parents/volunteers.) I walked away feeling good and that we’re all making progress in our daily lives of living and getting better.

Then after a conversation with some neighbor friends on values and our political system struggles, I read this short piece below from a former swim parent/board person that got me thinking along with watching a Train Ugly video on how our brains can change and how we can continue to learn to have a “Growth Mindset” (I’ll post more next week about it). So, I want to share some thoughts, which are at times difficult for me to put in writing, but I thought it can‘t hurt. Then read “5 Ways Parents (people) Can Handle Conflicts” and see how it might fit into our daily living exchanges.

Here are my thoughts:

Think how grateful we can be every day for so much good in our lives. We are truly blessed with so much that’s good that comes our way.

First, I’m grateful for many things in my lifetime journey so far, most importantly my lovely partner for 41+ years, Shayla—whose strong faith and belief in all mankind being equal is so inspiring. Second, our families/siblings who bring so much laughter, love and joy to our lives, even when we don’t always agree on some issues. Also, I’ve had the good fortune to travel the world in my coaching career, experiencing many different people/cultures, plus working/sharing with some great staff, parent groups and yes—young people of all ages. The one common theme is there are more caring, wonderful people in this world and a great deal of positive things going on that happen every day. Our constant news cycle doesn’t seem to cover that as much, but rather the power struggles that are front page news based on he/she said that it make it appear things are horrific (which as history has shown has always existed before our 24-hour news cycle brought it to the forefront daily.)

Yes, we all face different challenges, some that don’t work out the way we’d like or believe in. We have to decide how we’ll respond to these occurrences. As I like to share/believe – “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” Keep in mind we all come on to this wonderful planet the same way and are made of basically the same substance. At the end of each day, can we realize that we have a lot in common, want peace, security and the love of our family and some friends while sharing our earth and it’s beautiful creatures and resources?

We are truly blessed with so much that good that comes our way and we should take a minute every day to say and share what are we grateful for.

5 Ways Parents (earthlings) Can Help Handle Conflicts
Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham from SwimSwam

One thing I’ve learned through experience is that when there is an issue that involves our children—and I feel like they’ve been wronged—I need to take a deep breath. And, I let a few days pass. I ask how our kids can settle an issue themselves before getting involved. I’m not talking about something serious where they could be in danger, but other issues like being signed up for events they don’t like or not making it into a higher level group.

Here are five tips to use at the pool and in other areas of your life with coaches, teachers and other parents:

ONE
Listen to your kids but do some research. It is possible that there are two sides to the story. If you only listen to your child, you may not have the whole picture. Investigate and find out the other point of view. Then you’ll be in a better position to evaluate if you need to get involved. Often, our kids vent to us but may not want our help.

TWO
Take some deep breaths, let time go by and walk or exercise before making a phone call or writing that email. Sometimes things that seem so urgent at the moment won’t be so worrisome after a few days. In many cases, a new issue will take its place.

THREE
Don’t lose your temper or you’ve lost. Having an issue about our kids can turn a mild-mannered person into a mama or papa grizzly. Staying calm if you do get involved, will help you get the results you’re seeking.

FOUR
Have a solution in mind. What is the outcome you want? I had a boss once say that anyone can point out problems—it’s the people with solutions who are rare. I learned from serving on our team’s board that people can complain a lot. After every decision our board made, we got complaints from someone. Sometimes, just listening made the person feel better because people like to be heard.

FIVE
Understand that you can make the situation worse. This is a sad truth that with our best intentions, we can escalate a small incident into something bigger. Also, by problem solving for our children, we are taking away opportunities for them to learn and grow into independent adults.

What is your best advice for parents when kids are facing a problem?

 

I’m grateful to for time with family and friends.

 

My favorite things about swim meets

I wrote this five years ago when my daughter was still swimming with the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs. What an amazing time we’ve had as part of Piranhas since 2001. Swimming has been a vital part of our family life, and now with the kids gone, my husband and I have joined as masters. It’s fun to look back at my memories from the team. So many great coaches, kids and parents throughout the swimming community.
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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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Reflections from the first meet

Three years ago, I swam in my first swim meet. Actually, my second one if I count the one at the Everett Golf and Country Club when I was five years old. That meet was really a sort of fun day to end the summer lessons. We raced each other, dove for pennies, and had to pass the Red Cross beginning swimmer exam. I remember being scared at both meets. But, the more recent one was much worse on my nerves. Despite being way outside my comfort zone, I had an experience to cherish. Here are my reflections on my first US Masters meet:

 

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Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.

I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.

I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.

Her answer, “What’s that?”

I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”

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The home town pool the morning of the meet.

She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley.

I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?

I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.

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Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.

Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.

What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone?