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Eye on Golden Philanthropy: Michael Phelps Expands the Pool of Future Olympians
August 11, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Olympians and their philanthropy, visit Glasspockets’ Going for Gold.)

Michael Phelps Rio PHOTOIf recent history is any indication, Olympic veteran Michael Phelps will make a huge splash at the Olympic Games in Rio. 

As the most decorated Olympian in history, Phelps debuted as the U.S. flag bearer in this Summer Olympics’s Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony. 

In the last few days, he earned gold medals in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay, 200m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and 200m individual medley.  He now has a record 22 gold medals, with a total of 26 Olympic medals.  Not bad for a “retiree.”  Phelps famously retired after the 2012 Olympics in London, and returned to the sport in 2014.

Michael Phelps NBC News
Source: NBC News

Phelps, 31, has earned numerous accolades over the years: Sports Illustrateds 2008 Sportsman of the Year; Swimming World Magazine’s World Swimmer of the Year Award, seven times; American Swimmer of the Year Award, 10 times; and the FINA Swimmer of the Year in 2012. 

The Maryland native’s performance at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was phenomenal.  For tying Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals and ultimately setting a new record of eight gold medals, Phelps earned a $1 million bonus from his longtime sponsor Speedo. He used his bonus to start the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on promoting healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming.

Building the Sport by Increasing Access to Swimming

In his letter on the foundation website, Phelps described his commitment to help youth enjoy safe swimming and healthy living.  “Swimming provided the opportunity to stay healthy while I learned about hard work, determination, and setting goals,” he said.

It may be surprising to some that as a boy, Phelps said he feared the water and didn’t like getting his face wet. “But because I had someone to encourage me, who understood the importance of water safety, I developed a comfort level for the water,” Phelps said. “The more time I spent in the water, the stronger I became, and my passion for the sport grew.”

In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation gave away $425,146 in grants, according to its Form 990.  The foundation aims to level the playing field for youth and athletes in underserved communities.

Im-program

Named after Phelps’ signature event, the individual medley, the IM program is promoted in U.S. cities where access to swimming is limited.  The IM program offers water-safety courses, recreational pool activities, and swim training, as well as health and wellness education.  To emphasize the need for such programs, the Phelps Foundation website cites the statistic that youth drowning rates in ethnically-diverse communities are two to three times higher than the national average.

Since 2010, the IM program has reached over 15,000 youth through the Boys & Girls Club of America and Special Olympics. In 2014, the Michael Phelps Foundation delivered the IM program to 35 Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. 

“The Michael Phelps Foundation is creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds."

To help talented athletes in financial need, Phelps’ foundation partnered with the Level Field Fund to create a grant program for swimmers. The Michael Phelps Foundation wants to “fund talent and fuel dreams for the next generation of Olympic heroes.”

“Losing talented athletes because of a lack of financial means is troubling,” Phelps said. “We support the Level Field Fund because we are big believers that every athlete should have the chance to pursue their dreams to their full potential.”

Olympian Katie Meili is one of the talented athletes who received a Level Field Fund Swimming Grant – which pays for expenses such as travel, coaching, training and event fees.   She won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke in Rio.  Thanks to the swim grant, Alex Meyer successfully competed in a 21k open water race in Poland and brought home prize money that covered two months of his living expenses.

Phelps also leverages his celebrity to help local charities.  Through Caps for a Cause, Phelps provides signed swim caps so that nonprofit organizations can raise funds at their respective silent auctions and fundraisers. 

Future Plans

Boomer PhelpsThe Olympics is just the icing on the cake for Phelps.  Phelps and his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, welcomed their first child Boomer Robert Phelps earlier this year.  Phelps said he enjoys family life and regularly posts adorable Instagram photos.

The future continues to be golden for Phelps, who is expected to compete in additional swim events this week.  He also can’t seem to leave the pool, and he has hinted that he may continue competitive swimming after Rio.

Watching Phelps score his 21st gold medal – and counting! – this week, it’s clear we are watching history in the making.  And his engagement in philanthropy shows that in and out of the pool, Phelps is one to watch. 

We are rooting for more victories in Rio!  And we’re looking forward to witnessing how he channels his talent, determination, and passion for swimming into creating a more inclusive sport with expanded opportunities for youth and athletes of all backgrounds.

--Melissa Moy

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Congratulations Michael Phelps ..

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