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Cannot Imagine What Athletes Must be Going Through: Michael Phelps

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Former swimmer and decorated Olympian Michael Phelps is concerned about the mental well-being of athletes now that the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed by a year. Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medal winner, who is no stranger to mental health struggles, is concerned athletes may go through a wave of emotions and may find coping with such unprecedented event challenging.

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“It’s a total bamboozle. There’s such a wave of emotions. I can’t imagine what these athletes are going through right now,” Phelps told Associated Press.

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However, Phelps said he was relieved that the call was made to postpone the Olympics amid the growing outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. Teams such as Australia and Canada had already pulled out of the event before the official call was made, and after many athletes and individual boards appearing hesitant, it was inevitable for the Summer Olympics to be rescheduled.

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“Honestly, my first thought was I was relieved,” Phelps said. “Now, there’s more of a chance that we can beat this thing and do what we need to do to save as many lives as possible. I was happy to see them logically making a smart decision. It’s just frustrating it took this long.”

Phelps had opened about his struggles with depression and anxiety and had even contemplated thoughts of suicide. Reaching out to athletes for whom the postponement may be overwhelming, Phelps urged them to keep things as easy and simple as possible.

“As athletes, we’re so regimented,” Phelps said. “At this point, all the work is done. We’re just fine-tuning the small things to get to this point. Now it’s like, ‘Oh … we’re not competing.’ All these emotions start flaring up. I really think mental health is so important right now.

“Just control what you can control. We’re in such uncharted waters. We’re getting all these big questions thrown at us: What if? What if? What if? It’s so hard to understand. We’re having a hard time just wrapping our head around it.”

On how he’d have reacted had he been an active performer and remained in contention for the 2020 Games, Phelps said: “I was barely holding it together by the seams. I don’t know if I could’ve made it another year.”

After retiring in 2016, a year later, Phelps joined the board of Medibio, a company focused on diagnosis of mental health disorders. He was given the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion, 2019, to recognize his advocacy for people with disabilities and his own journey with mental health. Phelps said he would be more than happy to offer an ear to anyone going through even the slightest turbulence.

“Some guys have already reached out, asking questions about what they can do,” he said. “Anything I can do to support my friends and others who want to try to accomplish their goals and dreams, I’ll do it. This is such a big time for mental health. It’s more important now than it ever was before. I hope everybody is taking care of themselves mentally and physically at this time. I’m always available and open at any hour to anybody who needs help.”

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