Bone Dry: What Caeleb Dressel took away from hiking the Appalachian Trail

Caeleb Dressel
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This past spring, when Caeleb Dressel thought he would be in training, days ahead of the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Games, he instead hiked 10 miles a day for six days on the Appalachian Trail.

“Olympic Games [in 2016] was a great experience, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t a life-changing experience,” Dressel, 24, said in June on “The Ben and Caeleb Show,” a podcast he co-hosts that’s on an indefinite break due to busy schedules. “I feel like I learned a lot more about myself, my family and everything going on around me more on the trail than I did with the Olympic Games.”

Dressel, a Rio Olympic champion on relays, developed into arguably the world’s best individual swimmer in this Olympic cycle. He earned 13 world championships gold medals between the 2017 and 2019 editions.

He was expected to vie for another Olympic team in three individual events, plus up to four relays, with a chance at seven medals this past summer in Japan.

Then, in March, the Olympics were postponed until 2021. Dressel suddenly didn’t have a meet on his calendar for several months.

So he approached his coach in Gainesville, Fla., Gregg Troy.

“I said, I think this is something that I need to do,” said Dressel, whose unique path from prodigy to prizewinner included a five-month mental break from the sport before enrolling at Florida in 2014 to swim for Troy’s Gators. “It’s not necessarily that I wanted to miss practice. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to practice. I hate missing practice. I checked with Troy, and he said, ‘You need to go. You need to go do this. You need to go with your family. You need to go be out in the woods a couple of days.'”

So Dressel joined a family tradition. In past years, his father, Michael, and older siblings, Kaitlyn and Tyler, hiked the A.T.

Dressel, who can swim the length of an Olympic pool in 21.04 seconds, lugged a 30-pound backpack around Tennessee (and possibly into North Carolina). He navigated bear scat and a dead rattlesnake — its fangs visible — with trekking poles. He brought one set of clothes. Kaitlyn wisely packed double food portions for him, though it still wasn’t enough tuna and tortillas.

“I was the biggest baby,” he said in a recent interview. “I just kept complaining about how hungry I was the whole time.”

He also earned the trail name Bone Dry, for being the first to run out of water every day.

“It was truly a life-changing experience, coming back with things I learned on the trail,” he said. “It was a good point to really see where you’re at with nothing going on.”

The beauty: waking up one morning to the sound of twigs breaking. Then shining flashlights to uncover deer all around the campsite.

The solitude: Dressel, who believes true happiness can be found in a two-hour solo car ride, hiked eight to 10 hours a day, portions of it alone.

The reality check: meeting a man who said he was a heroin addict and whose last resort was escaping to the woods. Or the 74-year-old woman with the trail name Turtle, who lugged a 40-pound backpack.

“Things I thought were a problem before I went out there all of a sudden weren’t a problem,” Dressel said, such as concern about posting the right things on social media, running his mouth too much about people behind their backs and complaining about the amount of Zoom calls on his plate.

Dressel came back and threw out non-essential possessions. He resolved to limit phone use, especially before bed. As of early December, Dressel said he stuck to it, deleting the Reddit app and keeping an Instagram time limit of 15 minutes per day.

“I’m at the point now to where I don’t remember where I put my phone because I don’t use it that much,” he said.

Dressel found other adrenaline rushes while going more than seven months between swim meets: jumping out of a plane and visiting hundreds of bees.

He returned to competition this autumn, spending six weeks in a Budapest bubble for the International Swimming League. Dressel broke short-course world records in three events and was league MVP.

He was asked to sum up 2020 as he approaches what will be a life-changing year with an upcoming wedding to Meghan Haila. He mentioned a favorite quote, that he believes one is defined by his or her habits.

“We all know what happened in March,” Dressel said. “It was really up to me to decide, do I want to be a lazy baby and regress backwards, or do I want to take advantage of this situation and look for other outlets outside of swimming, outside the pool to implement into my life and build those habits?

“This is the most I’ve enjoyed the sport of swimming, kind of having it taken away from me, and then being back in it.”

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

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Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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