You’ve said starting your lifestyle website Genuine Joy was inspired by completing your first Ironman Triathlon. How so?
At the end of 2009, I signed up for my first Ironman. I had no business doing it, but I wanted a new challenge. I was getting stuck. I would do the same recipes, the same workout, same fashion. I was so scared to try something new. But as I crossed the finish line, I had this really great moment of ‘Oh my gosh, I set my mind to something really hard, and I accomplished it.’ The idea for the website came from that feeling, because no matter the difficulty of the challenge, it’s always fulfilling when we conquer fear.
Have you found that your story resonates with people?
I got great responses from people who were saying, ‘I was scared to run a 5K.’ Because I think we look at people and we assign how we’re feeling on the inside and compare that to their outside, and so people would look and say, ‘Well, you’re an Ironman. You obviously love to work out.’ But there are days that I don’t want to work out. I am like everybody else. And so when I would convey those struggles, I think it really resonated with people. People want to be able to relate and my sharing experiences and difficulties—I’ve shared recipes that haven’t worked out.
In some ways, your website reminds me of the lifestyle blogs and websites that a lot of celebrities have right now, but it’s much more relatable. Is that intentional?
It is, because that’s how I live. You know, in some of those, like for example the Gwyneth Paltrow Goop, like, it’s so aspirational, and you’ll see this pair of pants, and you’ll look and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re $2,500! I don’t have $2,500 for a pair of pants.’ Yeah, I try to make it what I do. It is relatable. Some things can be inspirational, but it’s not aspirational, like I don’t recommend anything that I don’t like or that I wouldn’t purchase for myself.
What would you recommend for someone who’s going to start a fitness regime in the New Year?
The thing that’s important is to keep your own fitness and your own abilities in mind. Make small steps. If your goal is to run a 5K, track that. Say, if you want to run a 5K in March, in January you start walk/running. For me, it’s always important to write it down. I’m the girl who still uses her calendar. I like to see it in front of me. And I treat a workout like an important meeting. I stick to it. It’s really easy—especially for women because I think we’re really accommodating to others—for things you do for yourself to get push to the side. And I think it’s really important to remember that this is something for you. And when I work out, I’m a better person. I have more fun.
So what is your ultimate goal with Genuine Joy?
I started it around the time that I did the Ironman so it’s been about three years. It started off as a blog, just a place for me to write. And then it transitioned into more of a website where I was hired by a publication to write for them from Fashion Week, and then I was hired by a network to do some pieces for them from the Olympics—kind of a behind-the-scenes thing. So, it’s been this great organic growth, which I really like. So, ultimately, I’d like to see that continue. There are some components that I’ll be adding to the site in 2014 that I think will help the growth.
I’ll be doing some videos. The thing that I find the most challenging is understanding that what I know, everybody else doesn’t know. You only know what you know, so I assume that everybody else knows what I know—and that’s not the case. So I’m going to do some step-by-step videos, kind of how-to’s, really simple, have some third-party content, maybe have a makeup artist come in and show a great smoky eye or how to roast a butternut squash. Things that might seem very easy, but I was talking to a friend the other day and she was like, ‘I have no idea how to roast a butternut squash.’ So, it’s just another resource on how-to. There will be a Recipe A Week section. And I get a lot e-mails asking for advice or opinions, so I’ll have an Ask Hilary section. It’s exciting.
With this website you are establishing your own public name and brand, how important is it to you to carve out your own public identity?
It’s always been important to me. My brother and my sister and I are all independent people. That was something important to our mom and dad, that we were different and independent. So, as alike as the three of us are, we each have our own path. And I think that’s important and as we’ve grown older, we’ve become more defined. It’s funny, even though we all started out swimming, Michael’s the swimmer, I went the triathlete route, and my sister went with the extreme races. Within my family, they’re like, ‘Of course you would do this. Of course you would put this information out there. Of course you would share it with others’ because that’s something I’ve always done. My mom joked recently because my sister did the Tough Mudder, she was like, ‘What did I do to you kids? [Michael] won 22 Olympic medals. You did an Ironman in eight months after never having run a marathon in your life, and then [Whitney] just won the Tough Mudder for women! Why don’t you guys just run 5Ks?’ We’re just all overachievers.
It does seem like the Phelps kids like a challenge.
Very much so. And while we’re all supportive of each other, we’re all competitive when it comes to playing each other, if that makes sense. Like, if we are playing air hockey, it’s game on. If we’re bowling, it’s game on. We’re very competitive children, but outside of that, we’re very supportive.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask if Michael is going to come out of retirement for the 2016 Olympics?
He’s back in the drug pool, meaning he’s back registered in the USADA drug-testing pool, so I think he’s just keeping his options open. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.
If you knew, would you tell us?
[Laughs] We always say that we stay in our lane. My mom, my sister, and I are family. Whatever Michael decides, we are 100 percent behind. Now, as a joke, my mom said that she wanted to go to Rio, but whatever Michael does, we want him to be happy and fulfilled and love life. That’s it.