August 21, 2013

Michael Phelps visits Maine, swimming still his game

The U.S. Olympian and legendary swimmer promotes a business and youth wellness in Saco.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SACO – A little over a year after collecting his record 22nd Olympic medal in the last race of his competitive swimming career, Michael Phelps fulfilled a 12-year-old promise to his agent by coming to Maine for his first taste of lobster.

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After winning the most golds ever by an Olympian, Michael Phelps is now part of the Michael Phelps Skill Center, a pilot program designed to augment his swim school in Baltimore and his five-part IM program, which is run in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

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Michael Phelps talks Tuesday with local swim coaches after a demonstration of the training equipment he’s helped to develop at the Michael Phelps Skill Center in Saco.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

MICHAEL PHELPS

2000: At 15, youngest male swimmer on U.S. Olympic team in Sydney. Places fifth in 200-meter butterfly.

2001: Becomes youngest male to set a world record, in the 200 fly, at 15 years, 11 months.

2003: Set world records in different events on the same day at world championships in Barcelona

2004: Wins six gold medals and two bronze at Athens Games.

2008: Sets seven world records and wins eight gold medals at Beijing Games.

2012: Wins four golds and two silvers at London Games, completing medal haul at 18 gold and 22 overall -- four more than any other athlete in any sport.

Phelps arrived in Portland Saturday and extended his stay until Wednesday morning with Peter Carlisle, the managing director of Octagon's Olympic and Action Sports division. They played nine holes at Nonesuch Golf Course in Scarborough; grilled steaks, asparagus and lobster tails at Sebago Lake; twice breakfasted at Becky's Diner in Portland; cruised around the islands of Casco Bay and, following a company outing called "The Octagon Olympics" in which Phelps swam a short and shivering ocean leg of a relay race, enjoyed a lobster bake in Cape Elizabeth.

"I've had a blast," said Phelps, who sported a vintage black Baltimore Orioles cap with a gold O above its brim and several days' growth of black whiskers. "We walked around the Old Port went out on a boat, saw a bunch of seals playing and jumping all over the place."

A waitress at Becky's didn't believe Phelps when he confirmed his identity.

"I was like, 'You don't have to believe me if you don't want to, but that's what my mother named me."'

As he left the restaurant Tuesday morning with Carlisle, Phelps heard one waitress say to another, 'That's not him. No way.' As soon as he walked out the door, he sent out a tweet: "So far I've had 2 meals from #beckysdiner while I've been up in Portland. Hmmm where else should I try?"

Phelps swam in the lake as well as the ocean -- "When he said Sebago was cold, I knew he was in trouble," Carlisle said -- but one of the primary reasons for his visit was to check out the four 9-by-18-foot spas housed in the same Saco building as the Octagon offices and the OA Performance Center, adjacent to the MHG Ice Centre.

The spas -- think treadmills for swimmers -- are part of the Michael Phelps Skill Center, a pilot program designed to supplement the Olympian's swim school in Baltimore and his five-pronged IM program, which is run in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

IM refers both to Individual Medley -- Phelps's favorite event -- and the self-affirming I AM. The five branches (or bubbles) of the program all follow the words I am: Safe (comfort and confidence in the water), Fun (recreation), Fast (technique and form), Healthy (wellness and nutrition), Successful (goal-setting program).

"One of the reasons we started the IM program to help kids become water safe," Phelps said, "is that there are too many kids under the age of 14 who are drowning."

Indeed, after motor vehicle accidents, drowning is the most common cause of childhood death.

Teaching kids to swim in a spa, where water temperature and current can be regulated and cameras above, below and to the side can provide instant visual feedback, is one aspect of the Skill Center. Other aims are to attract competitive swimmers, recreational and fitness swimmers, triathletes and patients of Orthopaedic Associates -- a partner in the venture -- in need of aquatic therapy.

"We're still very much in the mode of testing and trying to figure out what works," Carlisle said. "It's still in the developmental stage, but we know we can do the (instructional) programming really efficiently."

On Tuesday in Saco, Phelps met first with a dozen local swim coaches to extol the benefits of bringing to their athletes the same sort of technology Phelps used with his own coach, Bob Bowman. Later, Phelps met with five children from the Portland Boys & Girls Club, one of six incubation sites for his IM program.

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