He took his first step in that direction yesterday when he announced on NBC's Today show that he will donate the $1million Olympic bonus he received from Speedo to a foundation he has created to promote water safety and youth swimming.
Phelps' longtime agent, Peter Carlisle, said he has talked with the swimmer for years about setting up a foundation. Phelps knew he wanted to spread interest in swimming but also wanted to convey a message that could apply to other activities.
"Some of these kids may swim, some may never swim, but they can take the lessons Michael has learned and apply them to anything," Carlisle said.
Phelps said the foundation will soon begin an eight-city tour to introduce a program called "Dream, Plan, Reach." It's designed to help children set goals and take daily responsibility for pursuing them.
"It's something that I think is important and something that will be fun," he said.
Phelps set big goals at an early age, but he had to embrace the everyday drudgery of 6a.m. practices in a cold pool to reach them. He believes children must dream as he did, Carlisle said, but they must also learn to plan. Phelps will never be in a better position to convey that message.
"The primary goal for him will be to do what he did in '04 and get in front of kids so they can talk to him, shake his hand, interact with him directly," Carlisle said. "He feels a responsibility to use the platform he has right now."
Phelps received the $1million from Speedo as a reward for winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing. The company also announced it will donate $200,000 to the Michael Phelps Foundation.
The Rodgers Forge native's potential plans to purchase the Meadowbrook facility in North Baltimore, where he trained until 2004, remain up in the air, said Carlisle and the pool's general manager, John Cadigan. But the neighboring Northwest Ice Rink, which could be part of an expansion, closed last weekend.
The Phelps media tour will roll on for the next two weeks. He'll appear Sunday as a presenter on MTV's Video Music Awards and will be a guest Monday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. On Sept.13, he will host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live.