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Caeleb Dressel, the Champion Swimmer, has Returned to Swimming After an Eight-Month Break

By: Jy Hung Ong

Last year, Caeleb Dressel, the champion swimmer, took an eight-month break from the sport due to mental health issues that he will not go into detail about. Last week, he returned to swimming and competed at the U.S. National Championships.

During his eight-month absence, Dressel began to miss some things about swimming. Jenny Vrentas, a journalist for an article in The New York Times, writes, “Some were simple, like blowing bubbles in the water or the feel of his toes on the grip tape of starting blocks. But he also missed the chlorine — a swimmer’s nemesis — and the dry skin that comes with hours spent in the pool.”

“I missed every part of it. And that’s how I knew I was ready to get back. Because I didn’t need to. I wanted to,” Dressel said.

From 2016, when Dressel started to become an elite swimmer, he has reigned as the best sprinter in the world. However, in June 2022, he abruptly quit the sport because of an unknown health issue. He did not return to the sport until last week, when he returned to the U.S.’s national championships.

Unfortunately for Dressel, his long break from swimming was reflected in his performance. His swims in the 50-meter and the 100-meter, events he won at the Tokyo Olympics and for which he holds the American record, did not qualify him for the championship final. His best of the four events was third place medal in the 50-meter butterfly, which is not good enough to compete in the world championships.

“I always had a smile on my face actually racing,” he said. “There is a difference between racing scared because you don’t want to embarrass yourself and then actually enjoying racing. And I haven’t had that enjoyment in quite some time, so it was nice having it back.”

Dressel did not say why he quit swimming for eight months. However, he said taking a break from the sport was necessary.

“The easiest way to put it, my body kept score,” he said. “There were a lot of things I shoved down and all came boiling up, so I didn’t really have a choice.”

Anthony Nesty, Caeleb Dressel’s coach, said Dressel’s therapist was part of the reason Dressel rejoined swimming.

“Mental health is a serious issue, and everybody deals with it differently,” Nesty said. “Sometimes it takes time to heal from that.”

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