Surprise Party Capture

A surprise party can be tough to pull off, especially when you have people coming in from all across the country AND social media exists.  In an age where everything is tweeted, instagramed or posted on Facebook, it's almost second nature to "snap, edit, caption and post" without giving it a second thought.

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What a Run

As the first week of the Olympics wraps, it's tough to believe that it's the last Games we will attend as a family.  Michael has said he will take Mom to Rio, so they can watch the races of 2016 together.  But this is the last one all together.  And while it still hasn't hit us, it will the next few weeks. After every Olympics, there is a time of depression.  Mostly for the athletes, where for four years they've worked hard to compete at the highest level and then it drops off to nothing.  Training starts back up for those who are competing another four years and life goes back to normal.  No magazine write-ups, commercials or photo shoots (for most).  Similar to a roller coaster, the athlete climbs his way to the top.  Excited because you're almost there, almost there, almost there... and then Whoosh! Down the hill you go, the exhilaration of competition and performance is exciting and inspiring.  But then you're back to making the climb and stating from the bottom.  And it's tough.

For the families, the excitement of seeing their loved ones achieve lifelong goals is awesome.  You're proud of them.  You've been on the other end of the phone when there's a tough day and you've watched them do great things; you've been on the roller coaster with them.  You've walked around the streets of a foreign country and experienced great adventures. You come home with funny antidotes about your travels that you share with friends and co-workers.  Then, you return to work and go about your normal day, as if the past week was an exciting dream.  It's an odd few weeks during the Post Olympic letdown.

After Michael's race last night, we went off to the London Eye, a massive ferris wheel overlooking the Themes River.  Made up of large pods, which can hold upwards of 20 people, the London Eye was built-in 2000 and takes a full 30 minutes to complete the turn.  While high up in the sky we saw Olympic Park, Beach Volleyball, Parliament and Big Ben. I have to say, it's really high up and not for someone who has a fear of heights.

Tonight, we are headed to the pool for one last race.  The individual win in the 100 fly was awesome.  Michael is now the defending champion in the 200 IM and the 100 Butterfly for the past three Olympic Games -- the first man to defend his title three times in two separate races. Incredible.

Today is a day full of sightseeing.  There are things that we want to do together that we're going to do before tonight's final swim.  We have had some exciting adventures -- yesterday taking my 6-year old niece to Hamley's, a toy store with six-floors of anything one can imagine! After her adventure, my sister and I found the lovely chocolate shop at Liberty.  We each bought British made chocolate to take back for friends.  I was told the violet was the Queen Mum's favorite!

Live from the Plaza

Yesterday, the Phelps Women were live from the plaza, with The Today Show.  After arriving in London late the night before, there were more than one pair of bleary eyes in the hair and make-up chair that morning.  Hopefully, waking up  on-time yesterday morning will get us on track for the rest of our time here.  With early mornings and late nights, it helps to acclimate quickly. What's funny was that the outfits weren't planned.  My orange J. Crew dress appeared red on TV, so it seemed as if we coordinated the red, white and blue! While we didn't, it was an added bonus that looked oh, so coordinated and styled!

Since Athens, we've been on the show approximately 8-10 times, and it never gets old.  The car picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the International Business Center (IBC), from where most American based media work during the Games.  We had our passes and tickets in hand, went through security and were taken to the set on golf carts -- we were told today that it can take upwards of an hour to walk from end to end of the Olympic Park, so the carts are helpful.

Arriving on the set means a quick hair and make-up.  We had a tight connection, as we were scheduled to go on for a teaser (where we wave and the show says "Coming up next...") a few minutes after arrival.  Touch-ups were complete and onto the set we went.  After the first teaser, we were able to say HI to Ryan Seacrest, who we met in April, when he was in Baltimore doing a profile piece on Michael and the family, set to air tonight (tune into the O-Zone at 7:30pm EST on NBC to see the piece).  Of all the people we have met, in my opinion, Ryan is one of the nicest and most easy to talk to people in the media, which is one of the reasons he is so successful -- he truly puts people at ease.

We sat with Savannah for just under 4 minutes and talked about what these Olympics mean to the family.  This is our last Olympics together,  but is Savannah's first. It is still surreal that this is our FOURTH one!

The interview ended and we headed back to the hotel and out for some sightseeing.  Finding a rustic coffee shop a few steps from our hotel, we stopped in for a pick-me-up.  My initial plan was to grab it to go, but the barista didn't provide that option.  Instead, she said to take a seat and she would bring the order to us.  Sitting outside, the caffeinated beverages were brought in quaint cups, along with a bowl of brown sugar.

Yesterday was the calm before the storm, as the next few days will be filled with action packed swimming prelims and finals.  The coffee wasn't take out, but we did walk away with a HUGE take away... when in England, look RIGHT first and then LEFT -- the opposite of what it is back home in the United States.  On two separate occasions, we forgot that seemingly small, but very important rule and found ourselves jumping back onto the sidewalk to the sounds of car horns.

Today we will figure out the schedule that we will follow for most of the week -- we will determine whether we can adjust our wake-up time, how long it will take to travel to the venue and the time needed to clear through security.  The week is just beginning, with many more adventures inside and outside of the pool to come! Until then...

(To watch the Today Show piece, click HERE)

A Day in the Life of a Swimmer

In the first installment, we talked about what it took to qualify for the US Olympic Trials and how the various rounds progress from Prelims to being named to the Olympic team, but what the cameras don’t cover—and what we’re going to discuss today—is exactly what a typical day is like for any one of these swimmers at the Trials, from the time they wake up in the morning, until the time they hit the sheets at the end of the night. The Prelim session of Olympic Trials begins at 10am, so the swimmer needs to arrive a few hours beforehand to wake up, fuel and warm-up.  With the longer Prelim sessions, resulting from the large number of swimmers who have qualified in each individual event, the arrival time for each swimmer is determined by what event he has that day.

Swimming the first event? It’s best to arrive early, around 8am, to allow time to warm-up, stretch and mentally prepare for the race.  Just because the swimmers have early morning practice, doesn’t mean they are all “morning people.” If you take longer to wake-up, then an earlier wake-up call is needed to get ready for the day.  Swimmers who are not racing that day will wake-up, eat breakfast and get in a 1000-3000 meter swim each day.  This allows the swimmer to keep the muscles ready for the day when he will swim his event.

Regardless of whether the swimmer is entered in 1 race or 10, they will still spend each day at the pool, both getting in a swim as well as supporting their teammates.  The teams present at Olympic Trials are either club teams or college teams, but either way, the swimmers clock a lot of time together while training and traveling, and supporting one another is important.

So how does this schedule actually breakdown on paper? Here you go:

6:30am Wake-up call

7:00am Breakfast (Most swimmers pack foods they are accustomed to eating while in training.)

7:40am Leave for the pool

8:00am Begin warm-up, stretch, change into race suit, meditate, relax, listen to music

10:00am Swim race

10:30am Cool down, change and return to the hotel

11:45am Eat, hydrate, nap; Video games, cards, reading are also viable options between prelims and finals

4:00pm Wake from nap, hydrate and eat

5:00pm Travel to pool

5:30pm Begin warm-up

6:45pm Finals begin

7:15pm Swim race(s)

8:30pm Finals conclude

8:45pm Eat dinner

10:00pm Wind down for the day, watch TV and go to sleep.

Your sample Day One is complete.  Swimmers competing in multiple races maintain the same schedule for the entire seven days of Trials.  If there is a time difference from their hometown to the meet location, swimmers will travel to the destination ahead of time to acclimate to the time difference.

The day(s) that a swimmer has off, is spent off their feet and resting, especially if they have another race the following day.  It’s important to go into each morning swim as rested as possible.

For nutrition, each swimmer is different.  Some carbo load and eat pasta; some eat the same foods they eat when training and some are expending so many calories that they are just trying to put in as many calories as they are rapidly using up. Some eat with their families, some eat with their teams and some prefer to eat alone.

In our case, we rarely see Michael at the meets, as it is his time to focus on what he needs to accomplish in the pool – equate this to walking into an important business presentation every day.  His office is (quite literally) the pool and his job is determined 50 meters at a time. In the end, however, even though swimming accounts for a large part of each of athlete’s life, it is not who they are, it’s just what they do.

Lap after lap. Day after day.

History of Swimming

Today marks the start of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, in Omaha, Nebraska. This will be my fifth trip to the Trials, as our family has been attending every edition since 1996, in support of a family member who has competed for a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic Swim Team.  In some ways it seems like a long time and in others, the blink of an eye. Regardless, it's been quite a ride. As someone who grew up swimming—as both an elite swimmer herself, and then as an ardent fan and supporter—I’ve been able to recite qualifying times, debate medley strengths, and relay alignment strategy, much in the same way a group of grade school boys would argue baseball card statistics, while waiting for the morning school bus to arrive. The facts, the figures, the stats, the history…all of it really, is engrained in who I am and who we all are really, as a product of the swimming machine. I say swimming machine, and not swimming community, because at the highest level, it’s not about comradery and friendship; it’s about forbearance and fortitude. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because this entire week will be a special Olympic Trials edition of Genuine Joy.

Over the next few days, the posts on Genuine Joy will be solely dedicated to Swimming, a sport in which the Phelps family has been involved for 25 years; one that has taught me goal setting, time management, dedication and which from the age of 5, taught me that talent alone, does not make a champion; it comes from some place much deeper.

Taking a step back for a moment, I believe that in order to understand the present Olympic Trials and the current generation of protagonists, you have to understand the past. Ironically, however, you can’t understand or appreciate the past (and therefore the present) if you don’t have a working knowledge of the overall structure of the sport of swimming and of the Trials themselves, so that is where we will start today: Structure and Organization.

The Olympic Swimming Trials are an eight-day event, running from Monday, June 25 through Monday July 2, 2012. This year, they are being held in Omaha, Nebraska but for many years, this meet was held at the IUPUI pool in Indianapolis, Indiana—home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

In March of this year, we visited the Indy pool for the last time, which was both bittersweet and surreal at the same time. You have to remember, as a family, we have been traveling to Indy for the last 20 years; we watched Whitney make her first World Championships team in 1994 and a few years later, in 2000, Michael, made his first U.S. Olympic Team, as a wide-eyed 15 year-old kid. For me, when you do something for 20 of the 34 years that you have been alive, it’s more than a tradition, in many ways, it’s self-defining.

Outside of our familial attachment to the event, the Olympic Swimming Trials has had a rich and storied place in the American sports landscape. The first edition was contested in 1920 in Alameda, California. Over its 92-year history, the meet has undergone tremendous change, from format, to scope, to sponsorship, to the competitors themselves.  On several occasions, the Men’s and Women's Olympic Trials were even held independent of one another.

One of the most common questions is how someone can even swim in the Olympic Trials. Do they have to be invited? Can they simply register like a recreational open water swim or a running marathon? Is there an age cut-off (maximum or minimum) for competitors?

The answer is in fact pretty simple: to compete at the Olympic Trials, you must swim a certain time in order to qualify.  The times are established by USA Swimming and competitors must achieve that minimum time in their respective event in advance of the Trials themselves.

Over the years, the times have gotten faster, as swimmers continue to evolve as athletes while at the same time, funding and grass-roots support along with youth-based emphasis for the sport continues to broaden. It’s a clear-cut calculus: more kids, starting at younger ages, training harder and longer than their generational predecessors will result in one thing: bigger, faster, stronger swimmers.

Once a swimmer makes the Trials time "cut" they are cleared to swim the event(s) in which they qualify. In terms of qualifiers, there are some events, like the 50 Freestyle—which is one length of a long-course pool—that can have a massive field of upwards of 100 entrants! No, it’s not an “every man for himself” race for humanity, like an open-water start in a triathlon. When it comes to pool-based swimming, 100 swimmers simply means innumerable waves of preliminary heats (called ‘prelims’) which will then determine who advances to the semi-finals (‘semis’) and later, to the finals. It is the final round, from which the actual two-man Olympic selection is made for each individual sport.

Sounds simple, right? Not even close.

Qualifying for the Olympic Team isn't one swim and you're done.  The swimmer must swim the event (with the exception of events 400 meters or longer) three times, with the third and final swim as the decision point for who is named to the team in said event. Events 400 meters or longer are swam twice.

The morning swimming session, prelims, is where all swimmers get the chance to make it back to the evening swim, semi-finals.  The selection is made based on the top 16 fastest swimmers, who will then advance to the semis, that same night. From the semis, the fastest eight swimmers then advance to the finals, which is held the following night.

For example, if I swim the 100 Butterfly in prelims on Monday morning and place in the top sixteen times, then I will advance to the 100 Butterfly semis on Monday night.  Once in the semis, on Monday night, if I produce one of the fastest eight times that evening, then I will advance to the finals the following night, for a chance at the top two places, which are named to the Olympic team.

So to recap, in order to make the Olympic Team out of the Trials, you are swimming the same event three times; and that's only for ONE race.  Imagine if you're trying to qualify in two events.  Or five events. Or eight. During the course of the week, a swimmer who races in seven events will swim approximately 30,000 meters, or roughly 20 miles.

And that's just the physical component.

Like any sport, there's a mental toughness in swimming that corresponds with the physical demands.  You have to believe that you can win, or else you won't.  You have to quiet your mind and be so still, that you have a laser focus to compete in front of 14,000+ people.  You have to know that you are the best.

Many swimmers have superstitions.  They eat the same thing before every race; they wear the same jacket to every race, which happens to be the same one they wore the first time they broke a World Record or won an event in a major competition; some slap their arms behind their back or make sure their feet are situated just right on the starting blocks.  Most, if not all, listen to music, which can get the adrenaline pumping or help them to relax and focus on the job at hand.

The most important thing to remember, about all of the swimmers at Trials, is that they are the best of the best.  They are among the top 100 swimmers in the world and they've all worked hard to get to where they are today.

So, turn on the TV and watch the U.S. Swimming Trials, airing every night on NBC and cheer on the swimmers.  Hear their stories and get to know who they are inside, and outside, the pool...