Michael Phelps’ Mom, Debbie: Make Room for Mommy

I suppose as a parent my eyes and my heart last week were drawn toward eight-gold-medal Olympian Michael Phelps‘ mother, Debbie. She watched, as best as she could, every stroke of her son’s powerful 6’ 7” wing span cutting through the bright blue water, and every passing tic of the clock reading out one record breaking time after another.

Debbie and MichaelOften the tension was just too much for Debbie Phelps, and she would put her hand up in front of her eyes and peek nervously every few seconds simply unsure what to do with herself. And when no one in the Cube in Beijing knew if Phelps had won a record-tying seventh gold medal, you could sense all of America collectively holding its breath. But I think we were holding it as much for Debbie as we were for Michael.

Phelps won his seventh gold medal by the slimmest of margins possible: one one-hundreth of a second. And from two ends of the Cube, Michael in the water, and Debbie, now cheering in the stands, there was an electricity that connected them as only a mother and her child can be connected. Through all the sweat and tears of raising three children as a divorced single mom, Debbie was rewarded with that moment when her son arrived at the pinnacle of Olympic greatness.

By now, most of us have heard the story of Debbie, the devoted schoolteacher, and Michael’s father Fred, the Maryland state trooper, who had a stormy relationship with the mother of his three children. Michael Fred Phelps, the youngest of those three children, grew unevenly. As his mom explained, first he grew into his ears, then his arms shot out and he had to grow into them, His feet sprouted into size 15 shoes and sometime in high school, having reached a height of 6’3”, Michael finally grew into his feet as well. Along the way he caught a lot of cruel comments about his odd shape. But whether it was frustration over a missing dad or bullying in school, Michael took that negative energy and beat it down as he raced his way through the water practicing everyday of the year including Christmas.

And through it all, his mom supported him, nurtured him, and most importantly inspired him.

Last week after Michael Phelps placed his name in Olympic history he said, “The more you dream, the further you get.” He pointed to his mother and said of all those who inspired him to greatness, “My mom was number one.”

Here’s to the parents who never give up on their dreams, or the dreams of their children.

Through the long days and nights, the happiness and the bitterness, the victories and the defeats. Debbie Phelps placed her son on the trail to all things possible and then watched and prayed from a respectful distance as he pushed himself forward to the very top.

Martin Brown

SMW Health Editor

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