Some months before Michael Phelps swam his way to Olympic immortality with eight gold medals in Beijing, he was involved in an unfortunate accident that seriously jeopardized his Olympic dreams. In October 2007, as Michael was getting into a friend’s car in Michigan, he slipped on a patch of ice and fell, breaking his wrist. Interesting sidelight: Michael may be fabulously graceful in water but on ground, he is apparently an extremely awkward mover, perennially prone to slipping. Life is like that. Great swimmer, lousy walker. You win some, you lose some. But rather than worry about his inability to walk with grace and stability, he focuses on doing what comes naturally—swimming. And that makes all the difference!

Back to the accident. A cracked wrist meant a plaster cast—a serious blow to his Olympics preparation. He couldn’t swim for the next few weeks. He was shattered. Was the great eight-gold Olympic dream over? All those years of practice, would they come to naught? After his fabulous showing in Athens, Michael had the world’s eyes trained on him—and he was a hot favorite for bagging an unparalleled eight-gold haul. Was the accident the start of the end?

Michael was disillusioned but quickly picked himself up and was back in the pool. With his plastered arm, he couldn’t swim but he would lie in the pool, kicking with a kickboard while his Olympic teammates did laps. He just splashed and kicked away furiously. While that was no substitute for swimming, it had one huge positive. He added incredible strength to his leg muscles.

Fast forward to 16 August 2008, in Beijing. Having won six golds, Michael Phelps was on track to the eight-gold dream. Just two races to go. In the seventh event, the 100 meter butterfly stroke event, Michael was neck-to-neck with Milorad Cavic. He won by the narrowest of margins, picking up his seventh gold by edging out Milorad by a mere hundredth of a second. That’s right—the margin was a hundredth of a second! As experts analysed the race and watched slow-motion replays, they found that in the last 5 meters of the race, while an exhausted Milorad dragged his legs, Michael used a strong kick to get his hands to the wall first, going ahead by that hundredth of a second. That strong final kick made the difference. Those leg-strengthening exercises paid off!

When you are down and in trouble, keep fighting. Don’t give up. Keep kicking. It won’t help to wallow in self-pity, or curse your stars or play the blame game. Every adversity has an opportunity couched within. It is up to us to grab it. And what you do when the going gets tough, is what defines your outcomes.

When you are down and in trouble, keep fighting. Don’t give up. Keep kicking. What you do in these difficult times often determines what happens next.