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At 23, Michael Fred Phelps has become an international sporting sensation.
The young American swimmer has smashed seven world records and won eight gold medals at the Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images], the first athlete ever to secure first place so many times at a single Olympics Games.
Given his success, it's easy to slot Phelps into the 'born achievers' category -- at 23, he's established a glorious career doing what he loves best, he's a millionaire, a world record-holder and the pride of his nation.
But hold on a minute -- is Michael Phelps [Images] really a born achiever?
He may beg to differ.
At the age of seven Phelps, the youngest of three children, was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For those not familiar with the condition, ADHD is a childhood condition characterised by constant activity, impulsive behaviour and the inability to focus one's attention on anything for a short span of time.
ADHD is treated with therapy and medication, but is not classified as curable -- as per information on the website WebMd.com, about 60 percent of afflicted kids carry the condition into adulthood.
To help release his pent-up energy and to emulate his older sisters who were also accomplished swimmers, Phelps took up swimming, starting to outshine his peers right from the start.
At the age of nine, Michael's parents divorced. His mother brought up all three children single-handedly, encouraging them to follow their dreams at all costs -- one middle-school teacher even told Michael's mother he would never be a success.
But successful Phelps is, and how.
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Yes, there are the occasional set-backs. Like the time back in 2004 when Phelps, then 19, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was under the legal drinking age limit of 21 in any case and to top it he was driving in an inebriated state. A repentant Phelps pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months probation, saying in court, "I recognise the seriousness of this mistake. I've learned from this mistake and will continue learning from this mistake for the rest of my life."
So who is Michael Phelps? He was a regular kid who struggled with an irregular condition and the divorce of his parents. He's young, he excels at what he does and like the rest of us, slips up once in a while.
And what life lessons do his struggles and successes hold for us?
It's not just his career and his unbelievable performance at the Olympics that classify Phelps as a winner -- it's his story of inspiration that makes him a real champion, a youth icon, somebody to look up to.
Photograph: Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images
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