08/29/2008 at 05:00 PM EDT
Michael Phelps faced his toughest competition yet this week in New York City: a group of 6-to-12-year-olds!
The eight-time Olympic gold medalist visited the McBurney YMCA in Manhattan on Thursday to hand over a $20,000 check on behalf of Visa as part of the Play Every Day partnership. Phelps, not surprisingly, spent most of his time in the water, running drills, racing, and slapping high fives with the kids.
"He was very gracious and spent a lot of time with the kids in the water," Mike Spezzano, vice president of programs and membership for the YMCA of greater New York, told PEOPLE Friday. "They swam against Phelps, which is something they'll be saying for the rest of their lives."
Phelps partnered with Visa and Play Every Day, which aims to get kids more physically active. The money donated to the YMCA will give 185 inner city second graders the opportunity to attend the YMCA for swimming lessons. Other funds will go to purchasing new equipment and expanding the organizations aquatic facilities.
"The spotlight is on him after all he's accomplished," Spezzano said. "Meeting with community organizations and kids when he could probably be doing a lot of other things says a lot about him as a person."