Go Inside Michael Phelps' 'Amazing' Dives with Great Whites & a 13-Ft. Hammerhead for Discovery's Shark Week

Michael Phelps says diving with sharks has always been on his bucket list

For 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, swimming with sharks has been a lifelong time dream.

“It’s been on my bucket list for years and years,” Phelps says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “As soon as I got down there and saw the fin for the first time, I knew I was going to love it.”

Phelps, 32, traveled with wife, Nicole, and the Discovery channel to the Bahamas where he got an “intro to sharks” and swam in open water with a 13-ft. hammerhead. “At one point she was just 12 in. from my face,” says Phelps, 32. “It was amazing!”

From there, it was on to Cape Town, South Africa, to cage dive with great whites and test his speed against one of the ocean’s apex predators in an open water race. (For safety reasons, Phelps did not swim side by side with the shark.)

“Seeing how fast they can move and switch direction on a dime, it’s unbelievable,” says Phelps, who hopes his experience can help educate others that “sharks aren’t out to eat us. They’re just like us, trying to survive.”

In fact, Phelps is such a big fan of sharks, he and Nicole even celebrated their son Boomer‘s first birthday with a shark-themed party complete with a banana, peanut butter and chocolate cake. “It was a lot of fun!”

Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, and Shark School with Michael Phelps airs July 30 at 8 p.m., both on Discovery Channel.

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