U.S. Swim Champ Michael Phelps A 'Changed' Man Since Rehab

By May Wilkerson 04/16/15

The 18-time gold medalist spoke for the first time about his 2014 DUI arrest.

Michael Phelps

U.S. swim champ Michael Phelps has returned to swimming and says he has undergone an emotional and spiritual transformation since going to rehab for substance abuse.

In September, the 18-time Olympic gold medalist was suspended from swimming for six months and mandated to six weeks in treatment after his second drunk driving arrest. His participation in the Arena Pro Swim Series this week marks Phelp's return to competitive swimming for the first time since his suspension was lifted.

"The last couple of months have probably been the hardest couple of months I've ever had to go through," said Phelps, speaking publicly for the first time since his ban expired. "I take full responsibility for all of my actions. For me, I know I've hurt a lot of people. It's been terrible. For me, being able to move forward to be able to be back in the pool is something I'm very excited about."

Phelps also announced this week that he's aiming to compete with the U.S. national team in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The 29-year-old addressed the challenges he could face in mending his public image. "I, of course, would like to show everybody in the world that I am in a different place and I am much better than I ever have been,” he said. “I understand that's going to take a lot of time, for me to be able to prove to whoever I need to prove to that I am different, that I have changed. This week will be the first week I can start that."

Though winning back the country’s trust could take some time, Phelps said he is more focused on himself and his recovery. “I know the only person I can control in any situation is myself.” He said he has a renewed outlook on life and is mending his relationships with friends and family whom he “pushed away” in the past. Today, he’s working on being present and is “fully engaged in everything that's happening.”

Among those whose trust he has already won back are his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, who describes visiting Phelps in rehab. "I was, again, skeptical. When I left there, I was amazed," said Bowman. "I just had no doubt that he had changed in a way that was really meaningful. It wasn't superficial. He wasn't doing it because he thought he had to ... He's been that every day since. That's the truth. And nobody is harder on him than me."

"Have I screwed up? Yeah. A lot," Phelps said. "But I've never gone through this experience before. I know that I literally can say this is the happiest I've ever been in my life."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.