Michael Phelps’ message to teen swimmer diagnosed with cancer: dream big

Over a year later, Rian Covington is cancer-free and still swimming

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A teenage swimmer diagnosed with cancer had the opportunity to meet his hero, Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps, who inspired him to keep dreaming and keep believing.

Rian Covington was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2018. He was 15 years old at the time.

“I was pretty much devastated when I found out because no kid my age wants to hear news like that,” Covington said. “So just kind of heartbroken just going through all the thoughts of what it means to be diagnosed with cancer.”

Covington is a passionate swimmer, but with the cancer treatments, his time in the pool was cut short.

“Eight-hour hospital day, shots, pills just the whole 9 yards basically," Covington said. “I just had to be up on getting back healthy every day and so it was a tough process but it was going to make me better and more healthy in the end.”

After enduring rounds of chemotherapy, Dreams Come True stepped in to fulfill Covington’s dream of meeting his athletic idol -- a moment he said he will never forget.

“Michael Phelps knocks on my door. I literally open the door and it’s Michael Phelps. I was like what in the world. It was the biggest, like, moment of my life," Covington said. "It was super surreal because you always, like, dream of meeting our idols. It happened right there in that moment. All that I had went through and all the people that were there for me kind of just summed up in one moment of meeting Michael and it was really cool.”

Rian Covington speaks with Michael Phelps.
Rian Covington speaks with Michael Phelps. (PGA Tour)

The moment was made possible during a Channel 4 telethon last year to raise money for Dreams Come True. The Players Championship surprised the organization with a $600,000 donation to fund “A Year of Dreams." As a result, Convington’s was the first dream fulfilled from the donation.

More than a year after meeting Phelps, Covington is cancer-free with a clean bill of health. The junior at Atlantic Coast High School is still swimming and pushing forward day by day.

“Dream big -- you never know where life can take you. Even if you’re in a crummy situation, you can still get out of it. You just have to keep believing," Covington said. "Dreaming big is something Michael Phelps told me to do and I think that’s one thing you have to take with you in life and it can definitely help you get through something like a cancer diagnosis.”

The PGA Tour has generated more than $3 billion dollars for charity -- a new PGA Tour record and milestone.

To learn more about Dreams Come True, which celebrated its 35th birthday in 2019, click here.

Rian Covington speaks with News4Jax reporter Lena Pringle.
Rian Covington speaks with News4Jax reporter Lena Pringle. (WJXT)

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