Shouts From The Stands: A Letter To Klete Keller

by SwimSwam Contributors 75

January 23rd, 2021 Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected].

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Ben Fisher, a four-year swimming at UC Santa Barbara.

Dear Klete Keller,

I wanted to let you know that you are not alone, nor unique, but you do have a gift to share.

I don’t sympathize with your political views or recent decisions. But I do feel compassion and optimism for your path.

I have spoken to several Olympians and Division I swimmers and a lot of us had a challenging time adapting to civilian life. It’s a lot like kids who have too much sugar and grow addicted to the feel good chemicals. Swimmers become addicted to the chemicals our bodies release when we swim. Something similar happens to surfers, which we don’t hear about until stories of someone like Andy Irons come out. Perhaps you are the Andy Irons of swimming today, except you have an opportunity for redemption in your lifetime.

Like many drugs, I think swimming is therapeutic when applied appropriately and as part of a well-rounded treatment. Competitive swimmers basically experience a mild overdose at least once a day six days a week. It’s been equated to having a similar effect that a drug does. If you’re not into drugs, imagine feeling so warm and good in your body that you can’t do anything but smile at the wall while feeling as happy as ever. That’s what it feels like after a hard swimming practice. Nothing matters. When you’re numbed out like that you don’t really have the chance or reason to develop mind and spirit resilience.

But at some point most of us have to grow up and cannot sustain both the life of an athlete and the life of a normal functioning adult. It is at that point when a swimmer must face their shadow, because they can’t fall back on feeling amazing but must move directly through moments of discomfort. For me, it took a decade of a lot of hard work to develop the resilience to face my own shadow with my shields down and begin the path to my best self.

Some of us (myself included) require moments of crisis to really step up and make the changes our mind and soul require. It would appear the same is true for you, Klete. If this moment is your bottom, relax and let life live through you so you can float back up to the surface, take a deep breath and contribute to a better world.

You will have your day in court. But you will also have your opportunity for redemption. Perhaps your story can be the catalyst for a real conversation on the criticality of developing the next generation of swimmers into more resilient, well-rounded individuals. Just as you would treat an overused muscle with exercises to balance out the muscle groups and stabilize the moving parts ,so should they treat somatic swimmers who self-medicate with feel good hormones. It’s wonderful for our bodies to feel great, but to avoid an over-reliance on the inherently temporary physicality of this moment, a robust training routine in stillness of mind and a connection to something larger than ourselves are essential. I am not talking religion as the tool for the soul necessarily, but more so connectedness and purpose.

Just as no one wanted to talk about concussions or off-the-field violence in football or drug use in surfing, no one wants to talk about emotional resilience in swimmers. Your story is being told in the press as if you are a lone wolf. But I am here to say that we are part of the same pack. We are not the same, but we have traveled a very similar road. While most swimmers I know may not have lived in their vehicles, they certainly have suffered to learn many lessons the hard way. I can also say that several people I know and respect have fallen down what I would call the Right Wing Internet Rabbit Hole which I assume you have also found yourself within.

Study your path but don’t let your decisions haunt you. Let them feed your growth and improvement. Let them fuel you to contribute to healing those you have hurt, and helping those you can help. You have made mistakes and there will likely be more cost to pay beyond what has already happened.

I would also ask that the general public, the swimming community and your own friends and family allow justice to take its course but to not play judge and jury. There is a tremendously rich opportunity here if we avoid placing Klete on a shame island and realize we have work to do to heal and prepare for a better future. We must do better to support one another and help us all develop into a more compassionate, more well-rounded community.

Klete, may you see your own light and shine it upon the Earth so that future generations can do better than we have been able to so far.

With great hopes for your future,



Ben Fisher swam four years at UCSB and for most of his life was primarily a swimmer. After a decade of tripping over his own soul trying to work in the corporate sector, he now spends his days working in trees.

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Kate Mortell
3 years ago

That was an excellent piece Ben wrote.
Everyone in the athletic world would be better for reading it.
Thank you to Ben Fisher for the kindness of writing it and modeling the multi dimensional beings that we are . For reminding everyone to extend more compassion to one another.
Thank you Swimswam for publishing it.
Kate Mortell
[email protected]

3 years ago

This “discussion” went from an open letter of understanding, not condoning, to a rehash of events of the 6th.
It is difficult in any profession to go from super star with all the accessories to not so much. Folks have an unfortunate taste fot the mighty who have fallen.

Viking Man
Reply to  Swimgl
3 years ago

Mighty? In ego and not ethics. Who cares about your mighty accomplishments if your ethics are tiny.

Reply to  Viking Man
3 years ago

People do like to see those who have been at the top fall from grace.

Coach Mary
3 years ago

I’m a coach and I have been approached by some parents in the past regarding their children readjusting after going back to a “ normal” life. I think as coaches we do need to address this. I love the way Ryan Lochte has said “ do it in the pool and leave it in the pool!” I think we should be aware of the problem and address it. Maybe USA swimming will explore the issue. I believe there was a HBO special on olympic athletes, , depression and re-adjusting to “ civilian” life. As to storming the Capital, screaming “ let’s hang Pence” and “ where is Nancy” the police were put in an awful situation. We all do not… Read more »

3 years ago

How longer have we to read about him? I went directly to comment section.
Regardless of he was/achieved as a swimmer, stop give visibility to such people….

3 years ago

Lost me with “Right Wing Internet Rabbit Hole”. Undercuts everything else you say.

Gregor Samsa
3 years ago

USA swimming or whoever the governing body is owes it to this country to strip his Olympic medals. Seditious acts deserve no quarter, sympathy or redemption unless Klete Keller comes forward and takes the first step and admit he’s made the mistake of his life. Regardless, strip his damn medals.

3 years ago

I believe this post is much closer to how those of us observing crises need to be approaching each other. We have to remember how to disagree and even disapprove without making it a team sport. And when someone with more intimate knowledge has something to say, especially something human and compassionate to say, we need to just listen and shut up for a while rather than look for a way to score points in response. It is OK to assume that the criminal nature of what happened is just wrong full stop, while also allowing for discussion about the way forward that does not involve declaring one set of beliefs right or victorious. These dual versions of America will… Read more »

Last edited 3 years ago by MRC
3 years ago

And just like that.. the beef begins