Boy with DMD 'Outswims' Olympian Michael Phelps

Logan Mitzel has one word for his swim with Olympic champion Michael Phelps: “awesome.”

The 11-year-old from Aurora, Ill., who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and relies on a manual wheelchair for mobility, loves to swim so much that in 2010 he completed a streak of swimming every day for 77 consecutive days.

“He’s an absolute fish,” says his father, Scott Mitzel. “Because of the buoyancy of the water, he doesn’t have to support his own weight, so he’s free. He does forward and back flips, he goes into the deep end, and he’s fine.”

Logan also loves the Olympics, particularly the swimming events. In 2008, when Phelps was on his record-breaking run of 14 gold medals, Logan would lie on the living room carpet and pretend to swim while watching Phelps on TV.

That is why, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered to grant a wish for Logan, he asked to meet Phelps. Wishes involving athletes and celebrities can be dicey, since these people already have many demands on their time, but Phelps agreed and the trip was soon arranged.

Mitzel over Phelps by a lap

In late January, Logan and his older brother Lucas flew with their dad to Baltimore, where Phelps lives and is busy training for the 2012 London Olympics at his home pool, the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center.

Logan, "an absolute fish," met his hero, Michael Phelps, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“We met [Phelps’] sister, also a competitive swimmer who works for his foundation,” Scott Mitzel said. “Then he came in and spent some time talking with us and posing for pictures. He’s tall, with long arms, and built like a swimmer, with a triangular upper body. He’s very outgoing, very down-to-earth.”

Logan told Phelps about his 77-day streak in the pool and asked Phelps’ about his longest stretch of daily swimming. He said it was five years.

The Mitzels watched Phelps train for about an hour and a half, and then Logan and Lucas got in the pool with the champion. They played and joked around, and Phelps swam a race again Lucas with Logan on his back.

After watching Phelps train at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Baltimore, Logan and brother Lucas hopped into the pool with the champ.

“Michael Phelps and I kept beating him,” Logan says.

Then Logan challenged Phelps to a race. They negotiated how many laps Phelps would have to swim against Logan’s single lap, and agreed on seven. “I finished one lap when he was done with six,” Logan says proudly.  Those 77 days in the pool had clearly paid off.

Afterwards, Phelps took Logan over to the pro shop and bought him a shirt, hat and water bottle, plus an autographed copy of his biography. He also gave Logan the swim cap and goggles he had just been wearing.

In return, Logan gave Phelps one of the special T-shirts Logan’s mother made for the MDA Telethon last year. On it is a picture of a smiling Logan and the words, “Praying for a Cure for Logan & MDA.”  Logan autographed the shirt at Phelps’ request, and with that, the memorable visit came to an end.

A bittersweet time

The T-shirt Logan gave to Phelps’ holds bittersweet memories for the Mitzel family. Logan’s mother Sophie, who designed a shirt every year for the MDA Telethon, was killed in a car crash last October.

Sophie, who worked for the tax-preparation firm H&R Block, was a big supporter of MDA, volunteering at Lock-Ups, Shamrocks, Harley-Davidson Motor Company rallies, walks, MDA fundraisers at Logan's school – “Any event where there was money to be counted, she would be there helping,” says Scott.

At Telethon time, Sophie would make T-shirts with Logan’s picture on them and hand them out to friends and co-workers. She would then marshal a large group of volunteers to wear the shirts as they answered phones and took pledges at the local MDA Telethon at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.

Sophie Mitzel was a lifeguard, and both Logan and Lucas (who does not have DMD) learned to swim at an early age. After Logan received his diagnosis in 2003, his father bought a gas heater for their backyard pool so Logan could swim later in the season. His father recalls that on the morning of a planned family trip last summer, Logan got up at 6:30 to swim in order to keep his 77-day streak alive.

In the winter, Logan swims at an indoor therapy pool at a nearby park. “He and I head over there two or three nights a week, and he spends an hour or so in the water,” Scott says.

After returning from his swim with Phelps, Logan was more enthusiastic than ever about getting back in the pool. The visit, Scott says, was an event Logan will never forget.

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