By: Jingwei Zhao
Caeleb Dressel is one of the most decorated swimmers, having won seven Olympic medals. However, “he chose to take a break from the sport for eight months to focus on his mental health.”. Only just coming back for nationals, he was still rusty and did not win, but he was just glad to be back. Reentering the water, he realized how much he missed the sensation of the pool— such as blowing bubbles to even the skin-drying chlorine.
He said, “I missed every part of it. And that’s how I knew I was ready to get back.” Last June was when he abruptly withdrew from the world championships for his mental health break. Besides one post he made last September, he never openly talked about his break until now, and is ready to start swimming again. However, his performance at nationals shows that he is not performing his best.
Despite the underwhelming performance, Dressel was happy to swim again, as not long ago, he was not even sure if he could resume his swimming career. This is the first time that he has not entered the world championships since his start as a young star in 2016.
“I always had a smile on my face racing. There is a difference between racing scared because you don’t want to embarrass yourself and then actually enjoying the race,” says Dressel. Now, he has regained that enjoyment for the sport.
Right now, Dressel is attempting to build his skills back up so he can qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Even though he wants to work on his physicality, he believes that maintaining good mental health is more important. Although Dressel did not explain why he withdrew from last year’s world championships, this is the most likely reason.
“Dressel is not the only swimmer to find that staying at the top takes a toll on their mental health.” When Lydia Jacoby won gold at the Tokyo Games in the 100-meter breaststroke race, she ended up struggling with depression as she dealt with the pressures of stardom at only 17 years of age. She swam for her passion, not for a career, so she took a break, and is now working her way back up again. She finished in second place for the 100-meter breaststroke, letting her into the U.S. worlds team, and now she is starting to feel like the swimmer she was at Tokyo again.
As for Dressel, he seems to be finding some more peace. Despite losing substantial muscle and not performing that well for swimming this season, he is now able to clear his mind. Now he reportedly can sit on his front porch with his wife, Meghan, “and no longer not think of a million things I need to be doing, or what I did wrong in practice, or why I thought I did bad in Tokyo, or why I thought 2019 was terrible.” Now, he enjoys swimming more than he used to and chooses to swim during competitions where he ranks low, even when no one is watching.