NEW YORK — Michael Phelps, the most successful athlete at the Summer Olympics in both Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, will be in town today to receive the Humanitarian Award at the 34th annual AAFA American Image Awards at a gala dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street.
This story first appeared in the May 7, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The swimmer is a spokesman for Speedo and has won 16 Olympic medals — six gold and two bronze in Athens and eight gold at Beijing — and is no stranger to charitable causes. He created The Michael Phelps Foundation and The Michael Phelps Swim School with the $1 million bonus he received from Speedo after garnering his unprecedented gold medal haul at the Beijing Games. Both organizations focus on growing the sport of swimming as well as healthy, active lifestyles, especially for children.
The 27-year-old Baltimore native has been involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 2002, and has served as global ambassador for Special Olympics International since his relationship with Special Olympics began as the ambassador of their 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai. Both organizations are partners of Phelps’ foundation and are part of the signature program, IM, at 28 Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Special Olympics International teams in seven countries across six continents. When he’s not swimming or involved in other philanthropic causes such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Pathfinders for Autism, Phelps likes to get creative in other fields. He broadened his global reach in 2009 with a children’s book titled “How to Train With a T.Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals,” and he created “Michael Phelps-Push the Limit” in 2011, the first-of-its-kind video game of swimming.
Phelps today will visit the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square to ring the Nasdaq stock market closing bell with several industry executives: Kevin M. Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Joseph Patuleia, executive director of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, and Helen McCluskey, president and ceo of The Warnaco Group.
Here, a chat with Phelps on swimming, philanthropy and fashion.
WWD: How excited are you about the Summer Olympics in London?
Michael Phelps: I’m really excited about the upcoming Games but I have to make the team first. We have trials next month in Omaha, so I’m really focused on that right now. It’s a great honor to be able to represent Team USA, to wear the red, white and blue, let alone win an Olympic medal. I had the chance to be in London for the hand-over party in 2008 and the crowd was huge, superengaged, so I’m sure it’s going to be a great environment over there.
WWD: What is a typical day like while training for the Olympics?
M.P.: It’s pretty straightforward. We’ll usually do double-practice sessions three days a week, so on those days I’m usually up at 6 a.m. and at the pool by 7 a.m. We swim for about two hours, then I grab some breakfast and take a nap, then head back to the pool for an afternoon session, which is usually about one-and-a-half hours in the water. The other days, we’ll do one pool session followed by some heavy dryland. In between, I’m trying to get as much rest as I can. Especially now that we are so close to trials.
WWD: Do you feel you have to press the limits every time you swim?
M.P.: I’m very goal-oriented. It’s something that I learned at an early age thanks to my coach. Every year, I write down what my goals are for the year and that’s what drives me. I’ve been doing that since I was 11 years old. We actually have the very first goal sheet I did.
WWD: A lot of people would have kept Speedo’s $1 million bonus for themselves. What kind of person are you and how do you view yourself and the world?
M.P.: I really don’t view myself any different now than before I had won an Olympic medal. I’m just a little older and more mature. I’ve been very fortunate over the years and swimming has provided me with a lot of great opportunities and memories, more so than I really could have imagined. I have been surrounded by a great group of people who have helped me get to where I am and to be in a position to help give back, to help others just as so many people have helped and supported me over the years. It’s something that really means a lot to me.
I love spending time with kids. There is nothing like seeing smiles on kids’ faces. That makes me really happy. I’m a kid at heart myself and to be able to spend time with kids, encourage them to pursue their dreams, to let them know that they can do anything that they put their mind to is a very rewarding feeling. I’m very proud of the success we have had with my foundation’s IM program, which has helped more than 2,300 kids become water-safe since we launched in 2009. Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children 14 and under, so there is more that we can do. But I’m excited about what we have been able to do so far.
WWD: What are your thoughts on fashion and what do you like to wear?
M.P.: In the pool it’s Speedo only….I’ve always worn Speedo as they really do make the best suits and they have been extremely helpful in supporting my goals to help promote swimming. When I’m working out in the gym, it’s Under Armour. As for around town, I like to wear jeans and combinations of T-shirts, button-down shirts and various sweaters. I definitely like to keep my tabs on the latest fashion trends.
WWD: What about women’s fashion — what do you like?
M.P.: I like when a woman looks comfortable and confident.
WWD: Any other thoughts?
M.P.: Yeah. I’d like to wish my mom a Happy Mother’s Day. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. And to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day.