Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No Limits : The Will to Succeed by Michael Phelps

No Limits : The Will to Succeed

By Michael Phelps with Alan Abrahamson

Eight gold medals, eight life chapters. Michael Phelps' book uses his 8 gold medal events at the Beijing Olympics as an outline for his life story so far. Each chapter gives a backstory about each event providing Phelps fans with a transparent look at his personal struggles and triumphs behind the scenes.

Most of us are familiar with Michael Phelps. We know that when he’s training he eats a lot, about 10,000 calories a day. An average breakfast for him might include rice pudding, some eggs, a side of bacon, an omelet, then a stack of banana chocolate-chip pancakes. If he’s really hungry, he’ll throw-in some cheese fries. Now that’s the “Breakfast of Champions!”

Most of us are familiar with the story of how water got into his goggles during the 200 Butterfly event at Beijing. We also know he barely won by a fingernail in the 100 Butterfly. But, as you can imagine, there was tremendous preparation behind all the glitz and glamour involved with winning 8 gold medals. In his book, Michael Phelps shares with us a more in-depth look at his career and the factors that have made it so successful.

One reason for Michael’s success is his coach, Bob Bowman. I like the story about the time Michael was 14 and he broke the record in the 200 Butterfly for 16 year olds. His mom decided to put a huge congratulations banner trimmed in red, white and blue across their front lawn to celebrate Michael’s accomplishment. But when Bob saw the banner he immediately tore it down. Michael’s mom was furious. How dare he do such a thing? Why did he do it? Here’s what he said to her:

“What are you going to do when he wins nationals? …Are you going to buy him a car? If he sets a world record, what, a house? You can’t get excited about every step. There are so many steps. We’re on, like, step 200 of 3,000. How are we going to keep going?”

Coach Bowman’s statement and reaction may seem a little harsh, but shows how much he pictured Michael accomplishing. Back when Michael was 14, his coach could already envision far bigger prizes on the horizon.

Another reason to explain his success is the fact that Michael Phelps is just outright tenacious. He reminds me of Tiger Woods. Does Tiger Woods like to win, or is it that he hates to lose? I think Michael Phelps is like that too.

One more-Michael Phelps is built to swim. Unlike most swimmers, he’s faster the second half of the swim instead of the first half. He finishes stronger than he starts. This is almost unheard of. When his competitors have worn themselves out trying to get out ahead of him, Phelps just turns it on. Also, the way Michael’s body is framed enables him to be fast. He has the ideal swimmer’s body. He is about 6’ 4” tall but has the wingspan of someone who is 6’8.” His hands and feet are huge for his size. However, his legs are the length of someone who is 4 inches shorter. So, he has a large torso that enables him to plane on top of the water, sort of like a surf-board.

One of the things I became impressed with while reading the book was Michael’s commitment to his goals. You can sense the agony of training so hard, such as swimming 55 miles a week. To keep himself going you can understand why he has to visualize himself breaking world records, winning gold medals.

After taking time off for a few months, Michael announced last week that he has begun training again with his sights set on the 2012 London Olympics. We probably can’t relate to the effort required to rededicate himself to the sport,coming off the longest break of his career. Not many of us can probably imagine the mental preparation and physical suffering he has to go through to get back to his gold medal winning form. But we can probably count on the fact that he has set his goals already. Phelps has said that he won’t try to race 8 events in the next Olympics, but he hasn’t completely revealed what his goals are either. Here’s what he has said so far:

“Obviously, this is the last four years on my career. I don’t want to come back and swim these four years and not be satisfied with how it went. I still have my goals and I want to make sure I reach my goals and accomplish my goals.”

Watching the Olympics is inspiring. Reading Michael Phelps book, No Limits is also inspiring. If you need any motivation to set new goals, to raise your standards, to set your sights higher then I'd highly recommend this book to you. May we all have the determination to stay focused on our goals like Michael Phelps.

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