Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps aims to be an agent of change in second act

Jay Asser 14/09/2017
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Michael Phelps with the kids at the Under Armour store opening in Dubai Mall.

The Michael Phelps most of the world knows is the one we’ve literally only seen on the surface. The American swimming legend, widely considered the greatest Olympian of all-time, has come to be defined by the briefest of moments – sometimes nothing more than seconds – spent in the confines of chlorinated water.

During his masterful career, we got glimpses of Phelps’ life outside of the pool – and at times they were glimpses he wishes were left private.

But now that he’s retired for good, Phelps the amphibious medal and world record hoarder is giving way to Phelps the human.

“There are a lot of things I can do now outside of the pool that could potentially be bigger than me winning X amount of medals,” says a relaxed Phelps in Dubai ahead of an Under Armour store opening in Dubai Mall.

“Medals are obviously great and I’ll always love to see them or hold them or talk about them, but I don’t want my career to just be gold medals or world records. I’d like my career and legacy to be bigger than that.

“My competitive side is finished inside the pool, but the goals that I have now are probably bigger than what I had in the pool.”

Bigger than 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which came on the podium’s highest level? That’s setting the bar high, even for someone who has constantly defied the odds.

But now at 32, Phelps has infinitely more life to live than what he’s already spent in the pool. Such is the nature of athletes that their run in sport, and especially their dominance, can only last so long.

There is an afterlife where time, once as precious as the gasps of oxygen Phelps utilised while torpedoing through the water, is suddenly in abundance and the challenge transitions from how to maximise it, to how to fill it.

“Now I get to do things and talk about things that I’ve never really talked about before,” Phelps says.

It may be difficult to fathom, but at one point in Phelps’ life – while in the midst of a transcendent career – he was struggling with mental health illness and substance abuse.

On the heels of floundering (for him) at the 2012 Olympics – “London was almost forced on me” – Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Ten years earlier, at the age of 19, came his first DUI, and in 2009, Phelps was photographed inhaling marijuana.

Following his second arrest, Phelps ultimately checked in to a rehabilitation facility to seek treatment in an in-patient programme.

After dealing with his inner demons behind closed doors for so long, Phelps has recently let the public in to understand what plagued him. He has also joined the board of directors of Medibio, an Australian medical technology company that has developed a test to help diagnose mental health disorders, depression and stress.

Phelps’ message is this: if even he, someone who arguably belongs on the Mount Rushmore of athletes, can grapple with mental illness, then there’s no shame in anyone else battling inner conflict.

“I can honestly say I’ve gone through depression probably a half-dozen times. I have anxiety, I have ADHD, there are things that make me human,” Phelps says. “I’ll get up and talk about it because it’s part of my life and I have nothing to hide.

“Throughout most of my career, I don’t want to say I had a mask on, but some of the times I wasn’t really showing who I was. I think over the last three years I’ve showed this is who I am and this is what you get.

“When it comes to mental health, hopefully we can teach people that it’s okay to not be okay. Look, I wanted to kill myself and I was able to come back two years later (at the 2016 Rio Olympics) and be the happiest guy in the world because I had the right tools around me and I was willing to change. I was willing to get better.”

While the personal fight against mental illness may be ongoing, Phelps has admittedly embraced a paternal role now that he’s more capable than ever of positively influencing those around him.

The reason for that is, well, he’s actually a father now. Phelps’ wife Nicole gave birth to son Boomer 16 months ago and the couple now have a second child on the way.

Daddy and boomer pool time!! 🏊 🏊

A post shared by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

Outside of being a father to his son – who he holds dear after his own father “was never around when I was a kid” – Phelps has become a sort of dad to the rest of the swimming world.

The transition to that role came at the Rio Olympics, where he was on a United States team full of up-and-coming swimmers who grew up with posters of Phelps on their walls.

“Throughout my Olympic career, I was very quiet and kept to myself because I was going out to compete a mission. So I was always in my own lane,” Phelps says. “(At the Rio Olympics), I felt more like a dad and it’s probably because I am a dad.

“You have a bunch of younger guys on the team. I kind of saw a goal of mine that I had, to change the sport and grow the sport, happening in front of me.

“I think it was the best and most enjoyable part of my career. I think people watching hopefully saw it in my face because I definitely think it was the happiest I’ve ever been. There was no better way to go out.”

By retiring, Phelps leaves behind a lasting legacy but also a sport that, much like athletics with Usain Bolt’s exit, is searching for the next great thing to fill the massive void left behind by its brightest star.

And naturally, those omnipresent records will be the benchmark, though Phelps hopes they’ll be broken sooner or later.

“A lot of people thought what I did was impossible. So if there’s a kid out there who’s truly willing to dream and dream as big as he can that will shock himself, anything is possible,” Phelps says. “If somebody does, great.”

Every athlete is different, but the greats often have competitive fires that can’t be extinguished. Phelps came out of retirement once. Why not again?

Nothing’s impossible, as Phelps himself says, but it’s evident in seeing and hearing him that his focus is now squarely on the next chapter.

“If you’re going to ask if I’m coming back, just forget it,” he says. “I did what I wanted to do and filled that ‘what if?’ For me, I’m very happy to be able to finish on my terms.”

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Former UAE cricket coach Paul Franks has become Nottinghamshire’s reliable deputy

Denzil Pinto 31/08/2017
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Franks briefly coached the UAE last summer.

Paul Franks could well be reflecting back on a memorable debut season as first-team assistant head coach at Nottinghamshire come the end of September.

The 38-year-old, who coached the UAE national team briefly last summer on a temporary basis, has only been in his new role since November but in his short time, the former pacer has already shown why he’s highly regarded by the club he served as a player for 19 years.

Working alongside former England head coach Peter Moores, everything has been going according to plan. Not only is promotion to Division One of the County Championship within their grasp, standing atop Division Two with five games to play, but they also find themselves in Saturday’s T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston.

The Outlaws make the short trip for one of the most iconic events in the British sports calendar for only the third time and a chance to make history by etching their name on the trophy for the first time.

Semi-finalists Birmingham Bears, Glamorgan and Hampshire will have other ideas though, particularly the latter who Nottinghamshire will have to stop before even thinking of reaching the final.

Their cause isn’t helped with Shahid Afridi lining up for the two-time champions and the former Pakistan star certainly lived up to his ‘Boom Boom’ nickname on his last outing.

He needed just 42 deliveries to reach his century in the quarter-final win over Derbyshire and Franks is fully aware of the threat the allrounder can pose. “We know he was outstanding in the last game and it was just such Shahid Afridi mode,” he told Sport360°.

“The evidence would suggest that he’s been a little bit more consistent these days so that is something we need to be aware of. We will have plans in place for him but the team have some very dangerous players as well. I think it would be wrong just to keep an eye on him, but we’ll do our homework on them and try and keep them as quiet as possible.”

Alex Hales

Will Hales return in the England Test ranks?

If Notts taste success at Edgbaston, it would complete a domestic double of both limited-overs competitions. Back in July, the club were celebrating their first trophy since 2013 when they got their hands on the OneDay Cup with a convincing four-wicket win over Surrey.

Most of the headlines were about Alex Hales and for good reason too. The England opener sent out another reminder of why he’s such a formidable force in the limited-over formats by smashing a record-breaking unbeaten 187 off 167 balls.

It was the highest individual one-day score at Lord’s and ensured fellow England international Mark Stoneman’s 144 went in vain.

With the lone T20 and five-match ODI series coming up against West Indies in two weeks’ time, Hales looks dead certain to add to his 97 caps in the limited-over formats.

But with the all-important Ashes series looming Down Under at the end of the year, and still question marks over England’s batting line-up, Hales could well be given a lifeline to resurrect his Test career.

It seems like an outside shot considering that the 28-year-old has not played a five-day game since the fourth Test defeat to Pakistan last summer.

In his 11 Tests opening alongside Alastair Cook, his stats show he’s capable as he scored three half-centuries with a high score of 94 against Sri Lanka last June.

He has again shown glimpses of his patience as displayed by his 218 against Derbyshire earlier this month – the fifth highest individual score in Division Two this season.

Franks, who won one ODI cap, believes a recall is very much a possibility if he can deliver for the remainder of the season. “He’s shown that he has international temperament in terms of his quality in ODI and T20I cricket,” said Franks.

“He’s played in front of massive crowds in the big stage and his record in the last three years has been second to none. I think England will be looking for various combinations in the batting line-up which hasn’t been quite right for me at this stage.

Stuart Broad (R) is congratulated by Sir Ian Botham.

Stuart Broad is congratulated by Sir Ian Botham.

“It’ll probably come down to a few things and I don’t know what the insights are when it comes to selection but I know Alex will certainly be discussed because he is a quality player. I think the timing of scoring runs will clear those situations and the ODI series against West Indies coming up, I’m sure he’ll make a massive impression and give himself the best chance of scoring runs. “I still think with England there are a few players who are not guaranteed a seat on the plane yet.”

One Nottinghamshire player who is guaranteed a seat on the plane, barring injury, is Stuart Broad. He’s a man Franks knows very well having shared the same dressing room since Broad made the move from Leicestershire in 2008.

The right-arm pacer was the talk of the town in Edgbaston when he overtook Sir Ian Botham to become England’s second highestwicket taker with 384 scalps in the first Test thrashing against West Indies. And Franks knew that Broad would always be destined for success even from an early age.

“I first played against him when he was at Leicestershire, before he came to Nottinghamshire. He had that thing about him, whether that was to get people out at times when the other bowlers were struggling or the ability to bowl tightly when the captain needed him and that was when he was a young man,” said Franks.

“I’ve certainly enjoyed working with him closely. He has the cricketing brains and good understanding of cricket, always has an opinion and always happy to have a debate on where he think he can get better.”

Just a day after breaking Botham’s mark, Broad, 31, made it clear there’s plenty left in the tank and that he can continue playing until the home Ashes series in 2019. “It’ll be very much down to his motivation (how long he can continue),” said Franks.

“I think when he has played as much cricket as he has and taken many wickets during that time, very much like James Anderson, he will know when that little bit of edge is going out from the game.

“If it becomes hard work for them, then he will probably know it’s time to move. From the conversations I’ve had with him, Stuart hasn’t given any indication of retirement.”

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: Paul Franks of Nottinghamshire CCC poses for a portrait during the Nottinghamshire CCC Photocall at Trent Bridge on March 31, 2017 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

In the hotseat for Notts: Franks.

INSWINGERS

What has been your experience working with Peter Moores?

Peter is really enthusiastic to the job and his knowledge is outstanding. We have been fortunate where the team has been playing well. That obviously means that’s an easy time to be a coach. He’s supported me massively and at the same time, I’m offering him good support as well and hopefully steering the cricket team to the right direction.

You were part of the England coaching staff for their Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge. What have you made of Joe Root as captain?

He’s settling in quite quickly. He’s been England’s best player and I think he’s been batting in the best position in that line-up. He’s got good people around him with the right support and senior players who have been there a long time. He can be captain for many years.

Peter Moores

Twice former England coach: Moores.

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Wallabies star Israel Folau talks the release of his children's books, getting married to Maria Tutaia and the All Blacks

Alex Broun 17/08/2017
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Israel Folau

Whenever you drop by one of the Wallabies hugely popular fan days – it’s not hard to spot who the favorite player is. Just follow the excited cries of “Izzy, Izzy, Izzy.”

There in the middle of a teeming pack of young fans, small hands thrust upwards, clamoring in admiration, you’ll find the beaming face and sunshine smile of 28-year-old full-back ‘Isileli’ (Israel) Folau. It’s easy to spot why Folau is so popular.

He won’t leave until everyone gets a signature; he welcomes everyone, young and old, with the same infectious smile; and in every interaction is the deep humility and gentle spirit that has seen him excel in three football codes – league, AFL and rugby union.

The dual international, State of Origin winning, 55-Test star has a positive message for all of the Wallabies of the future.

“For a young kid that enjoys being active and playing sport the first thing I always tell them is to have fun and enjoy themselves,” he says, “especially at that age. It’s not all serious.

“Sometimes they can get caught up in the competitive aspect and forget to simply have fun. A lot of the kids just love to get out there with their mates and enjoy the company. So just as long as they are having fun and doing that, that’s the main thing.

“There are changes as you get a bit older but for most kids I tell them to really enjoy themselves.”

It’s this simple heart-felt message which Folau carries into all his own games and his interactions with fans, team-mates – even opponents: a pure love of the game.

“Rugby’s a team sport so you need your team-mates to work with,” adds Folau. “Obviously, there’s different physique shapes for guys to play the game, which is a great thing because it caters to a lot of different people.

Israel Folau 1

“It’s a great opportunity to go down and play with your mates; for us at this level it’s something we really enjoy doing and it’s the same for the kids as well.”

Whether he was running out to play for Lurnea Public School south-west of Sydney, where he grew up, or for the Wallabies against the All Blacks, as he will be this Saturday, the same grin lights up his face.

Several years ago however Folau became concerned that kids were concentrating too much on the physical side of sport and forgetting other facets of their development, such as reading.

So along with David Harding he created the “Izzy Folau” series of books.

“A lot of the kids at school were not getting into the educational side of reading,” he explains.

“A lot of kids enjoy their sport and love watching it so I just thought of the idea of putting out a book for kids, especially for kids that love rugby or sport in general.

“Hopefully, it’s something that would catch their eye so they could potentially start reading, but also read something they enjoy reading about. For me it’s a small project but something that I was really passionate about doing, more so to see kids get involved and really get into their reading time and also enjoy books that they really love.”

Reception has been overwhelmingly positive with Izzy often asked to sign copies at appearances and training sessions.

“All the feedback’s been really positive” he says.

“A lot of the kids come to training or after a game, and bring the book or mention the book, that they love reading it. For me it’s really encouraging – that was why we wanted to do it. It puts a smile on my face to see that kids really enjoyed reading the book.”

But Folau has other things on his mind at the moment including his upcoming marriage to New Zealand netball star Maria Tutaia. The pair are a celebrity couple Down Under, having been together since 2015, although Folau is not one to embrace the limelight off the field, with his main social engagement each week being church on a Sunday.

“It’s all going really well,” he says of his nuptials. “Thankfully I don’t have to do that much, my fiancée is looking after all the arrangements.

“It’s obviously been a bit tough distance wise (Maria in New Zealand and Folau in Australia).

“The great thing is we both understand the situation that we’re in and we both love each other. It’s exciting times for us and we’re certainly looking forward to it.”

😘❤

A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on

Folau credits two-time Commonwealth gold medallist Tutaia with bringing, “a great balance to my life.”

“I think the best thing she’s done is making me think about my surroundings and the people around me,” he adds.

“I’ve really had a pretty easy run. I’ve just had to look after myself and my family but she’s a total opposite to me, she’s really brought that good balance into who I am as a person.”

Who Folau is (partly), is a world class athlete and like other great athletes, such as Roger Federer, he has managed to stay at the top for over a decade. Folau says that the battle to stay on top is largely mental.

“The mindset is you always have to push yourself to get better if you want to stay at that level,” says Folau, having scored 26 tries in 55 caps for the Wallabies.

“That’s what’s really helped me. I always feel like there’s room to improve, to get better. I’m always trying to push myself in different areas of my game to really improve and up my game.

“I’m never feeling comfortable. That’s a big contribution to my success rate at this level. Staying hungry and trying to improve on a week to week basis. Not getting comfy.”

Although Folau’s individual form has been (as usual) impressive this year, team results for Australia’s Super Rugby contingent and Test level have suffered and he understands the frustration of loyal fans.

“It’s tough when results are against you” he offers, with his own NSW Waratahs winning just four of 15 matches.

“But we’re really trying to embrace the situation that we’re in.

“Realising that with footy, same as life, you’re always going to get things that don’t go your way, so I look at that opportunity I guess as place of growth. Without any challenges or obstacles you have to face, there’s obviously no growth or moving forward.

“So I try to look at in a positive way, doing it with your team-mates. I try to be vocal and talk to guys on a positive level each day to continue putting the work in to embrace the situation that we’re in.”

And what of Australia’s chances for the Rugby Championship? Written off due to a poor run of results and the overall dominance of New Zealand, but Folau, true to form, remains optimistic.

“It’s obviously been a tough period of time. But knowing what’s going on internally, there are some really exciting times coming up and certainly a pay-off from a fans point of view.”

BLEDISLOE CUP BUILD-UP

Bledisloe Cup build-up

On the return of Kurtley Beale

“You grow that extra leg when you know you have him beside you. He brings a lot more confidence to your game and it’s exciting. Guys like KB, they don’t come around too often.”

On playing the All Blacks

“Everyone’s keen. We’ve been working hard as a team now for the last couple of weeks. I think we’re building really nicely. The preparation has been really good, now the fun begins. We really can’t wait to get out their and play.”

On the Wallabies fitness

“The (intense training camp) definitely helped but as a team there’s more to it than just all that hard work that we out in. Things have got to click off the field as well. A lot of the game smarts have got to come in as well. We need to have a fine balance between all the things that we’ve been doing. I’m pretty confident in the things we’ve been doing as a team that it can work on Saturday.”

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