Most likely, you know swimmer Michael Phelps as the most decorated Olympic athlete in history. Over the course of his career, Phelps won 28 medals including 23 gold medals — the most golds any Olympian has ever won. But perhaps you don’t know that in 2008, Phelps used the performance bonus he received from his gold medal wins to start the Michael Phelps Foundation. The Foundation promotes water safety, health and wellness and encourages participants to reach their highest potential.
Since Phelps retired from competitive swimming in 2016, he’s redoubled his efforts to promote health and mental health and has worked tirelessly on behalf of the disabilities community.
Specifically, Phelps has supported organizations that work to destigmatize mental illness, something he has struggled with in the past.
Last week, word came that Phelps, 33, is the recipient of the fifth Morton E. Ruderman Award for Inclusion of People with Disabilities. Previous winners include actress Marlee Matlin who is deaf.
In a statement, Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation said “Michael has shined a national spotlight on mental health and is helping to eradicate shame and stigma from our society. He has changed the landscape of mental health awareness, and we look forward to working with Michael to create a world in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their stories.”
Phelps’ efforts on behalf on the disabilities community include serving as global ambassador for Special Olympics International. As Honorary Chairperson of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (“SAMHSA”) National Mental Health Awareness Day 2017, Phelps received the organization’s Special Recognition Award. Additionally, Phelps is an Ambassador for the Child Mind Institute’s #MyYoungerSelf social media campaign which aims to end stigmas associated with mental illness and learning disabilities.
In a press release, Phelps expressed gratitude to the Ruderman Foundation for “their continued efforts to help eliminate the shame and stigma that surrounds mental illness.”
“Together, we can normalize the mental health conversation and recognize the potential in every person — with or without mental illness — to contribute to our world in their own unique way,” said the athlete.