On Wednesday, the night before his his 31st birthday, Michael Phelps became the first male American swimmer to qualify for the Olympic team five times. Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with 22 medals (18 of them gold) and counting.
So how has he been able to reach this level of mastery? After all, the "Flying Fish" is still human. Here's a roundup of the traits that have most helped Phelps get to the medal podium so many times--and that can help you achieve success outside of the pool.
Despite suffering injuries, including a back problem that threatened to force him to retire from the sport for good, Phelps has constantly worked through the pain. A single-minded focus to achieve his goals makes him continually push himself. After the first gold medal, silver doesn't seem enough. In the 2008 Olympics, Phelps won a gold medal for every event he competed in--a total of eight. For the 2016 Olympics, Phelps is looking to set records again. While "I haven't swam [my] best times since 2009," he said Wednesday, "I would like to have maybe one before I retire."
In his first Olympic appearance at the 2000 Sydney games, Phelps didn't win a single medal. Just one year later, at the World Championships, he broke two world records. As in business, failure provides an opportunity to reassess your strategy and jump back in. "With everything that's happened," Phelps said after the trials last night, referring to his comeback from a brief retirement after the London Olympics and a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse, "that's probably harder than any swim I've had in my life."
The Olympian has trained with the same coach, Bob Bowman, since he was 11 years old. Phelps has said he would never swim for anyone else, even though he has described Bowman as a "drill sergeant."
As a professional swimmer, Phelps has had a punishing daily workout and strict diet for most of his life. Every week he swims up to 50 miles and, in 2008, would consume up to 12,000 calories a day (Phelps has said he doesn't eat as much now). "Eat, sleep and swim. That's all I can do," he told NBC in a 2008 interview. Now an elder statesman in his sport, he recently spoke about his comeback and his inspiration to keep going: "I just found the passion to do it again."
The Maryland native broke his first record at 15 and hasn't stopped since--he holds the top times in seven swimming events, which is itself a record. Like many successful entrepreneurs, the limits set by those who came before him represent a challenge and an opportunity instead of a stop sign. "Records are always made to be broken no matter what they are," he said following his performance in the Beijing games. "Anybody can do anything that they set their mind to."
So, entrepreneurs: just keep swimming.