By Mike Watkins//Correspondent | Friday, May 5, 2017
Caeleb Dressel has always been fast.
In fact, when he was a youngster – before he even took his first swim lesson – he was off the blocks and across the pool faster than kids several years older than him.
Funny thing was, he wasn’t even entered in the race. He was at the pool with his mom for his older brother Tyler’s swim meet.
Dressel said he doesn’t remember much from that day, but he said he does know that he wanted the medals that were being given to the winners, so he went out to get one.
He’s been swimming at light speed chasing after and catching most of them ever since.
“When you come from a family of four siblings, you learn to be fast – to be first – or you’re the one with the cold water in the shower,” said Dressel, the third-oldest of two boys and two girls. “I guess in some ways that translated to the pool. I’ve always been competitive. I’ve always wanted to be first. I’ve always wanted to win.”
And win he has, especially in short course pools. This past March at NCAA Championships, he won his third straight title in the 50 freestyle along with the 100 freestyle and also won the 100 butterfly. His win in the 100 free was his second consecutive at NCAAs.
His times in the 100 free (40.0) and 100 butterfly (43.58) set new American and U.S. Open records, and his time to win the 50 free (18.23) gave him the top 10 fastest swims in the history of the event. His win in the fly upset defending NCAA and Olympic champion Joseph Schooling for the victory.
But even after qualifying for his first Olympic team last summer, Dressel said he knows it’s time to step up his game in the “big pool” (50 meters) with the big boys and make good on years of tremendous promise.
“It’s great to swim as fast as I have in short course, and I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “But if I want to be considered among the fastest or be the fastest, I need to prove I can win at Nationals or the next Trials. That’s where you truly make your name in this sport.”
Consistently dropping time, Dressel said he and his coach Greg Troy work hard every day to find new ways to challenge himself – doing things he hasn’t done before to stay motivated to want to improve.
A staple on the U.S. National team the past couple of years, Dressel sent out a warning flare of what was to come with his breakout performance at 2013 Junior World Championships – winning six medals (one gold, two silvers and three bronze).
A year later at 2014 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, he failed to make it into the finals of either sprint freestyle and missed making any of the 2014-15 summer teams.
That was a harsh lesson he hasn’t forgotten, and he knows in order to make the top two and earn a spot on this summer’s FINA World Championship team, he’s going to have to get even faster.
“In short course, you can get away with imperfection in your stroke, but with long course, you have to be almost perfect and on your game in every race,” Dressel said. “I know I’ve got a ways to go, and I have a lot to prove with long course. But I prefer the big pool, so I’m excited to race, and I’m up for the challenge.”
Qualifying for the Olympic team last summer in Omaha set the stage for what’s still to come for the Florida Gator and Florida native.
While he didn’t win an individual medal (finished sixth in the 100 freestyle), he did come home with two gold relay medals (400 freestyle, 400 medley relay).
“It was so great to be part of those relays with three elite American sprinters – one being Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time; that will also be very special to me and a memory I will never forget,” said Dressel, who won the 50 and 100 freestyle events at 2015 Nationals. “Standing on the podium and watching the American flag go up was something special.”
Training for short course with his teammates during the season, Dressel also worked in ample time to focus on long course training to be prepared for the upcoming summer.
Known for his ink work almost as much as his swimming, Dressel has sported a very meaningful tattoo on his left shoulder and arm for several years – bringing to life the scripture Isiah 40:31 about patience and love for his fellow man.
For the past couple of months, however, he’s been slowly working on changing things up by removing part of the tattoo to add a Gator, an orange tree and orange blossoms to recognize and celebrate his life in the Sunshine state.
“I’ve lived in Florida my whole life, and I wanted to do something to honor my time as a Florida Gator as well as share the many memories I have of growing up with an orange tree in my backyard and how my brothers and sisters and I would have orange fights with them; those are great memories,” he said.
“The orange blossom is the state flower, so it completes the Florida state theme. I’m very proud to be from Florida, and I want to remember that with ink. I blame my brother for getting me interested in tattoos, but now I really love it. When you have your shirt off as much as I do, it’s great to have some body art to show off.”
Having tasted international success and knowing he wants even more – and now knowing he can hold his own against the world’s best – Dressel said he is excited for Nationals next month and the opportunity to be on his first World Championship team.
Ultimately, however, his goal is to help keep the United States at the top of the medals stand by making a contribution to the team however he can.
“I’m definitely more confident after competing at the Olympics last summer,” he said. “I’m feeling fast, and I’m ready to take my swimming to the next level.
“It’s been my goal to learn something from every practice – the good and the bad – and every meet each time I swim, and now I feel like I’m right there ready to compete for more medals.”