Last year this month, I had the rare privilege of meeting the most decorated Olympian in human history, Michael Phelps. The memories of which were brought back by Hetal Sonpal’s article.

To say no one is a better swimmer in the world or the most accomplished athlete in the universe than Michael Phelps is just blandly stating a fact. Phelps did something amazing to humanity — he challenged the limits of achievable and showed to the world that what was until recently thought impossible was just another feather in his swimming cap. He won 28 Olympic medals, and has the record of bagging the maximum golds in Olympics.

Another incredible athlete Ian Thorpe, who was the most accomplished swimmer before Phelps came on the scene, had said that it was impossible to bag more than 5 medals. “I highlighted that statement and put it in my locker,” smiled Phelps as he shared it with an auditorium full of attentive listeners, “He also said that ‘a person over 30 can’t win gold [at the Olympics]’. I had that in my locker too.”

Phelps claimed 8 medals in 2014 and 3 golds after 30. Did you tell Thorpe about it, he was asked? “Yes. He said, ‘I know how your mind works, so you can thank me for it!’,” shared the indomitable world champion. He emphasised on the importance of working hard consistently, even when you don’t want to. And you can read about it in any of his interviews, for this article is about magic.

Later that evening, I met him again at a high-profile dinner that had the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas, Reed Hastings (the Netflix guy), et al. Whichever way you looked, you saw someone very accomplished. However, the only person I looked forward to chatting up with was Phelps. And chat I did. “I do a ton of visualisation,” he said. “You aren’t the only one who does crazy visualisation, Michael,” I told him. “I am a swimmer myself. I was a state champion back in school. I even have a national level participation certificate,” I told him.

It sounded like a joke to even my ears to be talking about winning a bunch of gold medals at a small state competition to the Titan of the sport. I mean he is the best athlete in the world. But that’s not the crazy part. “The crazy bit is manifesting you in my life without even knowing it,” I said still in disbelief that the moment had actually materialised.

A quick story first. Once upon a time, in a residential school, there was a bunch of scrawny teenagers who grew up together far from home. They always had each other when they felt homesick, felt triumphant winning swimming and declamation championships, motivated each other when they were low, celebrated when they topped the class, and basically chatted away non-stop day or night.

So this bunch also practised really hard preparing for championships, under very talented and hardworking coaches. Once in the pool, they swam miles in loops and laps, waiting for the sun to set, hoping that would end the exhausting session, and they would be allowed to drag themselves out of the pool. However, Mr Rana and Mr Chhikara would blow the whistle again, swinging a cane in their hand, signalling them to continue. This was the everyday routine. And an everyday ritual would be to crack their pet joke: ‘Mr Rana/Chhikara thinks he is Phelps’ coach. Someone go tell him to get out of his Olympics dream. We are not Michael Phelps. We should be allowed to leave.’

And they would all laugh. Everyday. The same joke was cracked after an intense four-hour session when they were all tired to the bones but there were still many meters left for them to swim. And everyday one girl would joke, ‘One day I am going to meet Michael Phelps and tell him how he ruined our lives’. They would all laugh some more. And it was all forgotten until the next day. Once they passed out of school, the joke was abandoned with their swimming session.

The sensational Phelps should have probably motivated this bunch of young girls to chase reputable medals and clock better timings, but he was far away from them, an elite athlete who was too legendary to be real for them. His feat was almost fantastical.  

And here’s the surreal part: Several years later, that gawky teenager was standing next to Phelps sharing the joke. Telling him he ruined their lives. They were both laughing together now on a very old joke.

Yes, this meeting happened last year, but was probably in the making for 15years in the universe. I would always tell my friends that one day I’d tell Phelps… I didn’t even mean it forget about manifesting it actively, but they do say thoughts become reality, don’t they?

Even as I write this, I see a bunch of young teenage girls who knew well that Phelps didn’t even know they existed. For them, he was so out of reach that the chances of meeting Santa Clause was higher. As I write this, I hear them giggle and one of them casually says, ‘When I meet Phelps…’, totally oblivious of the meeting that will take place one day.

I want to tell that girl, as much as I want to tell you all, that the universe will make the meeting happen. That Phelps will laugh at the joke with her, just a few miles away from the place where the girls spoke about it. And he will even tell others to wait because he was “talking to the lady”. All she had to do was think about it.

I called up some of my school friends and laughed about that old joke once again. I am still astounded by the reality of this moment in time. It is way too surreal for me to express how it makes me feel even today, is this plain coincidence? I feel like a character in a Christopher Nolan film. You know what I mean? 

Did I tell you about the time I willed Will Smith in my life? Crazy, I know!

Michael phelps medha shri dahiya The meeting that was set rolling some 15years before this moment