PHOENIX, Arizona, October 23. THIS week, Swimming World Magazine will feature three exclusive book excerpts from Bob Schaller’s newly-released book Michael Phelps: The Untold Story of a Champion.
Michael Phelps is an American sports hero, perhaps the greatest Olympic athlete the world has ever known. His unprecedented eight gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics have made him a superstar. But his journey to Olympic immortality is every bit as compelling as his achievements in the pool. From learning to cope with ADHD to the story of how Phelps became the greatest swimmer ever, Phelps’ tale is told in full detail here for the first time.
The author, Schaller, has known Phelps and his coach for more than eight years, and has extensively interviewed him, along with his mother, sisters, coach, and teammates. Filled with revelations, career statistics, photographs, and insightful analysis of how Phelps achieved the seemingly impossible, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn the complete story behind the legend.
Purchase the book now!
From Chapter 10:
One of the more interesting swimmers on the 2008 team, Erik Vendt had pondered joining the Navy Seals after 9/11. The 2000 Olympic swimmer did not join the service after pausing to reflect, and came back to make the Olympic team in 2004. He was outstanding again in the Athens Games. A distance ace, he had finished second to Phelps in the 400 IM, grabbing a silver medal.
Vendt turned to an organic diet after 2004 and recommitted to swimming, and was pleased to be doing his best times.
“I think it’s the consistency in the training,” Vendt said. “My strength is getting better. I’m able to focus my life on swimming. All of those reasons have an equal importance.”
He trained for two of the hardest, most militaristically styled coaches in the sport, Mark Schubert at USC, and Bob Bowman at Michigan for the lead-up to 2008.
“They have a reputation for giving you the most yardage and so forth, but that works for me,” Vendt said. “I feel the most comfortable with that kind of training.”
September 11 was already a special day in the Vendt family, albeit for a very different reason.
“It has a weird personal side to it, because it’s my sister’s birthday,” Vendt said. “Also, it’s very personal because I have really good friends who are in the service, and I think about them on a day like (that). I get emotional, but for a different reason than people think. My three good friends are serving. That’s what I am thinking about.”
But after that initial response after the 2000 Olympics to enlist or go through officer training, Vendt had opened his mind to the world and taken stock of all the facts, with emotion taking a suitable but smaller role in his perspective.
“The freshness and horror of the moment was stuck in my mind for a while,” Vendt said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s starting to go away a little with time, though I won’t forget what happened. But like I said, I have friends fighting in this war, so 9-11 does mean something extra.”
Vendt came returned from Athens, and turned around and went out into the world. He explored New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti. He returned to America to finish his degree at USC – he had just one class left. Then, he took off for Europe and backpacked for more than three months, hitting all the major cities, a lot of little known places, too. That trip with a group of non-Americans got Vendt to thinking – about what he thought, and about other points of view.
“I was gung-ho – I am still proud to be an American,” Vendt said. “I freely admit that I have changed, but it’s in a good way. Traveling to Europe makes you see a different way of life, and just because people don’t see things our way doesn’t mean they are wrong. I took all of these experiences and cultures from other people I met, and it has taught me a lot about other walks of life. It taught me a lot about myself, and our country, too. I was thinking about going into the service, and when I got back to New York, I realized that wasn’t for me, even though I respect those who serve. We just need to know about the world more, and understand other cultures better. There’s so much more out there we need to know and understand. I really did a lot of soul-searching, met a lot of people and came to a lot of conclusions.”
That break not only refocused Vendt on who he was as a person and American, but what he could still be as a swimmer.
“Taking a break really did a lot for me, for my mind and my body,” Vendt said. “It made me fall in love with the sport again, and for the right reason. That kind of outlook has done well for me. You know, I saw these great places – these great sites, the Vatican and these amazing beaches,” Vendt said. “But the people, the culture, learning about the rest of this world is what I treasure.”
He met a lot of people from different countries – Italians, French and Australian friends he still stays in touch with – and expressed his own thoughts. But mostly, he listened, and spent time thinking.
“When you travel Europe and stay in these hostels, you meet so many people,” Vendt said. “The common bond is this love of travel and of culture. I met so many amazing people, and we had these immediate connections. I can’t even describe to you how fantastic the people were, just across the board. We had these great talks. I learned so much. It opened my eyes to the world. There is a whole other world out there, and we are a part of it. We have to learn about it.”
In 2006, he noticed it was an Olympic year, though not for the Summer Games. But his passion and patriotism sharing a healthy balance, Vendt was ready to represent his country and wear the flag again – on his swim warmup.
“The winter Olympics were going on, and I heard that Olympic theme song,” Vendt said. “Man, I knew I was coming back. I realized my career was definitely not over.”
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