Source: Nicole Johnson/Instagram
August 23, 2016 02:10 PM

For Michael Phelps, it all hit him when he was walking out of a post-Olympics event in Rio. “I was carrying a car seat in one hand, and a diaper bag in the other hand,” he told PEOPLE just hours before leaving his last Olympics in Rio. “Nicole was carrying Boomer. And I was like, “Wow. This is my life. I’m that dad.”

Not that he was complaining. “It was crazy but awesome at the same time,” he says. “To have it sink in that he’s here, he’s healthy, and I’ve found a stability that I didn’t have before.”

Phelps, of course, is the most decorated Olympian in history – 28 total, including 23 gold medals. “It’s great,” he says. “And I really want to use it all to advance the sport of swimming. But for now, it’s not my focus. For now, I’m a family man.”

Matt Slocum/AP

‘I Really Can’t Wait To Get Married

PEOPLE chatted with Phelps in Rio at a lunch arranged by KRAVE Jerky, a company with which he has partnered. Relaxed and happy, he interrupted the interview to playfully banter with his fiancée, Nicole Johnson. (It was totally PEOPLE’s fault. We asked if they planned to get a minivan.)

“Nicole, it’s the minivan question,” he laughs. “What kind should I get you?”

“I don’t want a minivan,” she pokes back. “You want the minivan.”

“I told her that we’ll get her a great minivan. With the ‘Baby on Board’ sticker. It’ll be great.” (Johnson rolls her eyes.)

“I’m a car person,” she replies. “No offense to anyone who drives a Minivan. I mean, the Hondas are nice. But I drive a car and he drives a big SUV.”

Johnson walks off to feed Boomer. Phelps watches her go. “I’m really blessed,” he says. “She’s really good for me. I really can’t wait to get married. It will be a small destination wedding later this year. It’s the next big milestone I’m looking forward to.”

Michael Phelps
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

‘For the Millionth Time, I’m Retired’

By now, it’s obligatory to ask Phelps if he’s really retired. At 31, he’s still young enough to return to the Olympics in 2020, which is why his retirement is so inexplicable to everyone but him.

“For the millionth time, I’m retired,” he laughs when asked the question. “I keep saying it, and people keep answering, ‘well, maybe he doesn’t mean it this time.’ But I do.”

“I’m finally ready to retire,” he says. “That’s the best part. In 2012, I think I forced it. I just wanted to be done; I wanted nothing else to do with the sport. This time, coming back and being able to finish how I did, it was exactly how I wanted to do it.”

He’s in a different place than he was in 2012, when he wanted to leave swimming behind. Now he wants to stay involved – but on his own terms.

“I want to continue the sport of swimming. I’m not going to give up until I think it’s reached where I want it to go. There are too many kids who are drowning for lack of water safety. That’s something I’d like to do. Teaching kids to live an active lifestyle. I’ll be working with kids for the rest of my life.”

Source: Michael Phelps/Instagram

‘Fatherhood Has Changed Me’

Around the time that Boomer was born in May, Phelps noticed a change in himself. “I became fatherly in everything I do,” he says. “I even see that in swimming. As the captain of the team. The things I was saying and doing, I see myself becoming more of a father figure.”

“I’m leaving here and going home, and it’s going to be all about Boomer,” he continues. “I only get this chance with him once. So I’m going to take this time to be a hands-on dad.”

“Fatherhood has changed me,” he concludes. “And I like it. I’m ready for this new stage of my life.”

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