One day last autumn, Caeleb Dressel meandered into housemate Ben Kennedy‘s room with an idea: to start a podcast.
“That’s so weird,” Kennedy replied. “I’ve thought about the same thing for a long time.”
The Ben and Caeleb Show hatched.
Dressel is arguably the world’s best swimmer, with 13 gold medals between the last two world championships. Kennedy is a swammer, a former University of Florida swim teammate who is now in law school in Gainesville.
They’ve lived together for five years, now off campus in North Central Florida (another former Gator, Bayley Main of New Zealand, also resides there).
The podcast is six months old, 27 episodes deep and, Dressel said, gaining traction. Episodes average a few thousand views on YouTube, plus rising numbers on audio platforms. They get fan mail in a P.O. box, including a ceramic goose, grandma pictures and, from an Australian named Josh, hot sauce.
Among the show’s topics: the three words you want to be remembered by (Dressel: loving, selfless, purposeful; Kennedy: patient, selfless, dependable), antimatter space propulsion and how to pronounce “crayon,” addressed in episodes six and 24.
Swimming is not a regular subject.
“I wanted something outside of swimming that I could put energy into, and I feel like people could really get a look into my life,” said Dressel, whose Instagram and Twitter accounts show no posts before March 12. “I feel like I’m a little bit sheltered on social media. I’m not the biggest fan of social media. I share what I want. I don’t really let my whole self out there. If you want the best way to get to know me [and] my career, things I’m struggling with even, things I’m thinking about, is to watch the podcast.”
It’s a release for the best friends who remember the exact date they met: Aug. 20, 2014, as freshmen.
“He’s putting in work for his profession. I’m putting in work for my profession,” Dressel said. “It’s no different. I think we both need a break. I think it all kind of melts away when we sit down and talk for 30 minutes and derail.”
Dressel tied Michael Phelps‘ record of seven gold medals at a single world championships in 2017. He broke Phelps’ total medals record with eight at the worlds in 2019, including snatching Phelps’ world record in the 100m butterfly. Dressel has said he’s not aiming to match Phelps’ eight Olympic golds in Tokyo.
On the podcast, Dressel shares more about his life on dry land. Including sensitive topics: being slapped by a bully in elementary school, when he kept his swimming a secret because he was embarrassed about wearing a Speedo. His dad getting cancer when Dressel was young.
And an admission he thought would cause listeners to “rip me apart.”
“Chewing tobacco,” once or twice a day, Dressel said in an early April episode. “Look, I like to dip. I like the feeling. It’s coming out. Let me just come out and say it.”
Dressel set a goal to limit dipping to weekends in an episode titled “Challenge Yourself.”
“I didn’t get any flak, honestly,” he said this week. “I didn’t think it was going to make headline news or anything like that, but, I don’t know, in my head, maybe somebody else is in the same boat with me.
“Once you start, step by step, putting more [of yourself] out there, it’s almost more relieving. It’s like, yeah, I’m not hiding anything.”
Kennedy, like Dressel, is engaged. He swam in the preliminary heats of the 100m butterfly at the Olympic Trials in 2016, around the time he endured his most significant struggles.
“You get to a point where you realize I’m not Caeleb Dressel,” said Kennedy, who didn’t swim for two months in the 2015-16 season due to mono. “I’m not going to be a professional in this sport. When you realize that when you’re in the middle of your college career, that can take a toll.
“I kind of knew I was never going to swim past college — finding the balance between taking that as seriously as I can and trying to be the best I can and realizing that my time is very limited. Of course there are people that are a lot more talented than I am. That was difficult. I’m sure a lot of college athletes can relate to this.”
In the podcast’s fourth month, they started adding guests. The first: Fernando, an Uber driver, whom they did not know personally before inviting him into their home. At recording time, Fernando had 3,100 trips and a 4.92-star rating.
Dressel and Kennedy also interviewed Kayla Redig, a former college swimmer who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24. And Dr. Greg Morgan, a sleep-disorder physician.
They want to continue to involve others. Ryan Lochte, another former Gator swimmer who once enlisted Dressel as a babysitter, would be a welcome guest, but he also wouldn’t necessarily fit the show philosophy.
“We want the most normal person you can think about,” Dressel said. “I want a guy that has a desk job and goes about normal struggles. We had the Uber guy, and that was awesome.”
Dressel and Kennedy won’t be under the same roof forever. But they’re determined to keep the podcast going.
Kennedy will intern this summer at Black Knight, Inc., a service provider for mortgage companies in Jacksonville. Dressel and his fiancee just closed on a house. “We’re going to make a podcast room,” he said.
In the most recent episode, Dressel said that, when he retires from swimming, he wants to run a podcast channel. Or be a dog trainer. Or a janitor.
The jokes are scattered among life philosophies. In the first episode, Dressel said he lives by a mission statement with daily goals, such as making his bed, reading at least 10 pages of a good book and throwing away one piece of found trash. The 206-word statement, which Dressel has massaged the last few years, is published on the “about me” page of his website.
“My dad always had a personal mission statement,” he said. “If your day didn’t accomplish what your mission statement says you stand for, that’s a bad day, and you’ve got to figure out a way to get better.”
Dressel’s dad, Michael, a veterinarian, is quoted in multiple episodes. The two most addictive things known to mankind: heroin and a weekly paycheck. Or, what he would say when starting the car to drive Dressel and younger sister Sherridon to school in the mornings: Engines to power. Turbines to speed. Let’s go, Batman!
Kennedy and Dressel feel they hit their stride by the six-month mark. They’d like to expand — better recording equipment, a greater appeal for guests. Neither feels restrained when publishing their conversations for the world, or at least a several thousand (and growing) for now.
“I’m hoping that people find it somewhat interesting, or at least entertaining,” Kennedy said. “I’m going to be a professional one day. I’m going to be, hopefully, a lawyer somewhere. I’m just waiting for the day when someone goes, oh, you said this on YouTube.”
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