I Can Understand Why Michael Phelps Felt So Depressed

Don’t let your identity be hijacked by one aspect of your life.

Sean Kernan
6 min readJun 16, 2024
At one of my many swim races as a kid.

“When you find yourself tiring out, you need to push through that pain. It’s so important,” my college coach said from across his desk, crossing his arms and staring at me disapprovingly.

I resisted the urge to flip out and shout at him. He’d misread the situation entirely.

That day, we’d done 10 sets of 100 yard sprints with only 10 seconds rest. It was a ridiculously difficult workout, and uncharacteristic of most training programs. By the 5th set, I was dying inside, the lactic acid overtaking my muscles as my body heaved for more oxygen.

My coach didn’t understand that my entire life was swimming. I worked so hard to do the best I could, and to become a top tier athlete. I resented that even after I’d left it all in the pool, it still wasn’t good enough.

Many people, and I suspect even my coach, don’t understand the difficulty of competitive swimming. Many understand it in the abstract, the idea of doing ten workouts a week, and then having to go through class. It sounds pretty darn hard on paper, right?

You can’t comprehend the fatigue until you’re in the thick of it. As you go about your day, every ounce of your…



Sean Kernan

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