Michael Phelps is back in the water – and determined to prove that he’s different.
The Olympic swimmer, 29, spoke publicly for the first time since his six-month suspension and rehab stint before competing at the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa, Arizona, stating that he takes “responsibility for all of my actions.”
“I’ve hurt a lot of people and it’s been terrible. For me, being able to move forward and being able to be back in the pool is something I’m very excited about,” Phelps said during an opening-day press conference Wednesday.
“I understand that’s going to take a lot of time, for me to be able to prove to whoever I need to prove to that I am different, that I have changed. This week will be the first week I can start that,” he continued.
USA Swimming suspended the decorated athlete and forced him to withdraw from the 2015 world championships after he was arrested for drunk driving in Baltimore in September 2014.
Phelps also lost six months of funding from the organization and was banned from participating in USA Swimming-sanctioned meets through April 6, 2015. He sought treatment less than a week after his arrest.
The swim star said that he feels closer than ever to his loved ones and has become more mindful of his behavior: “I’m aware of everything that’s going on. I’m fully engaged in everything that’s happening.”
Despite reports that Phelps would potentially be reinstated to the team ahead of this year’s FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August, USA Swimming ruled against allowing him to compete.
“It’s obviously very challenging for me to not be able to compete at world championships,” Phelps said. “I will be in full support of everything they do over there, and I wish them all the luck in Kazan.”
But the 18-time gold medalist said he aims to attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Baltimore native has plenty to celebrate outside of the pool. Phelps proposed to girlfriend Nicole Johnson, 29, in February, taking to Instagram to announce the couple’s engagement.
“I know that I literally can say this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said during a media event.