Michael Phelps will be swimming for gold once again at the 2016 Olympics in Rio

By Tierney McAfee
Updated June 23, 2016 03:30 PM
Tom Pennington/Getty

It’s been nearly two years since 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps finished a 45-day stint in rehab following his second DUI arrest.

Now, with those dark days in his rearview mirror and his fifth and likely final Olympics right around the corner in Rio, the greatest swimmer of all time is opening up to ESPN The Magazine about his past struggles with alcohol and suicidal thoughts.

Phelps cemented his place as an Olympic legend two years before checking into rehab in October 2014. He should have been on top of the world at the time, but instead he was drifting – drinking heavily and struggling to find his identity outside the pool.

“I thought the world would just be better off without me,” he told ESPN The Magazine for its July 18 Body Issue. “I figured that was the best thing to do – just end my life.”

At the encouragement of his friends and family, Phelps checked into The Meadows, a psychological trauma and addiction treatment center outside Phoenix, where he was finally able to face the demons that had been plaguing him for much of his life – including his complicated relationship with his father, Fred Phelps.

As the younger Phelps rose to stardom, he grew more and more distant from his father, who divorced Michael’s mom in 1994. Fred, who had served as an official on the deck for many of Phelps’ swim meets, was eager to reconnect with his son, but Phelps wasn’t interested. He says he agreed to meet with his father once in 2008, but then blew it off.

“I just didn’t want to,” Phelps said. “At times, I was like, ‘This is a really good idea.’ And we’d text and then I’d just stop texting and asking myself, ‘What am I doing? Why? I don’t want that. I don’t need that.’ ”

Now that Phelps is a father himself, to 1-month-old son Boomer Robert, he’s ready to put the past behind him. He says he’s realized his father did the best he could for him – and he’s ready to embrace his future in and out of the water.

“This is a new journey. I truly can’t wait for the next chapter of my life,” Phelps said.