A Letter to Klete Keller: An Opportunity to Grow for Fallen Olympic Champ

Klete Keller 2000 Olympic Trials by Peter Bick 1 copy (1)

A Letter to Klete Keller: An Opportunity to Grow for Fallen Olympic Champ

On occasion, Swimming World will run an article or commentary submitted by a member of the readership. Ben Fisher, a former swimmer for and 2006 graduate of the University of California-Santa Barbara, reached out over the last few days with a letter he drafted for Klete Keller. It was a letter he crafted in response to Keller’s involvement in the Capitol insurrection and drew on Fisher’s personal experiences and observations based on his time in the sport.

As the staff interacted with Fisher and weighed whether to run his letter, Fisher offered the reasons for his stance. He indicated that he competed in the sport through the age of 22 and noted that swimming was his full identity.

klete-keller-us-capitol 1

Photo Courtesy: Screenshot from Townhall Media/Julio Rosas

“I believe that it’s easy as a swimmer to rely upon how good one’s body feels rather than to develop skills to manage the ebb and flow of life. I am not sure if it’s nature or nurture, but a lot of ex-swimmers seem to have challenges with anxiety. Maybe we are just high energy people to begin with and that’s how we were able to train so hard. But I see a thread of a lack of emotional resilience not only in Klete’s story, but in my own, and in several of my peers’ stories.

“I’ve had to learn some lessons the hard way and really would love for the world to seize this opportunity to meet Klete’s story with compassion and do better. I came from the era where we just pounded out the yardage. Just as people are smarter now in the pool, I believe the next generation can be better outside of it as well.”

Here is Fisher’s letter to Keller:

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. There is a high we experience. 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.

Klete Keller

Photo Courtesy: Bill Collins / Swimming World Archive

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.

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

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

65 comments

  1. avatar
    Dylan

    Swimming is about community…. go home fascist

    • avatar
      Marissa Camacho

      Wow! Ben Fisher is trying to help and make good out of a bad situation which, as he claims, has hope. You are exactly what we do not need right now, responding to a very sympathetic and empathetic letter like that. Go home.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        This is exactly why he is where he is.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Let those who has no sin cast the first stone.

    • avatar
      Evita

      privilege at its finest

      • avatar
        Ricky

        Evita, bingo. Ben Fisher refused to acknowledge that what Klete did was fascism and yet, talked about his wonderful privilege … ugh.

      • avatar
        # PROUDAFVET

        He needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law!! Anyone who commits and an act of terrorism against the USA falls in this category!! We do not negotiate with terrorist! HE CHOSE HIS PATH, LET HIM WALK IT OUT WITH THE REST OF THE DOMESTIC TERRORISTS!

    • avatar
      Craig

      You do know that the election was stolen. You won’t insist to see the evidence, Why? No one has seen any yet! just like we never saw or heard from Biden, till after the election. WHY? WHY do you close your eyes?
      You all are brainwashed twinkies with a momma binkie. 75 million feel there was vote tampering, you believe the left wouldn’t do it? They tried for 4 years to indite Trump for something…… a rolling coup d’état so they stole it. Deny it, go ahead but you know there is something there and his actions were for your future. Ya lazy little twinks, grow a pair

      • avatar
        Ricky

        Craig, it was not stolen. Stop spreading misinformation.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        The Democratics didn’t try to take all the mailboxes or the Mail sorting machines. And closed polling places. I think it was trump. Who tried to keep people from voting. It did not work. Sorry just giving correct information.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Indict…word of the day

      • avatar
        Randy Hughes

        Let me see. Number one, I have not seen one shrewd of evidence. Number two, you do not attempt to overthrow an election because you do not like the results. Number three, news isn’t fake just because you don’t like what is being reported. Number four, the Supreme Court, federal judges appointed by dumb dumb himself saw no evidence and threw out Rudy’s “cases”. Number five, The swamp didn’t get drained, it got pardoned. Number six, when you have no point other than the one your hair covers up, you and all trumpets resort to name calling. Traitors , fact.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        man!! you are boring as hell!!!

      • avatar
        Dwayne Johnson

        Could not agree with you more. Well said!

      • avatar
        Maiya McCoy

        He wants someone to believe in what he’s saying but can’t even spell indict. Sad

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      It was a very well-written letter and siad a lot of things that we need to think about. You, sir are just a name-caller.

  2. avatar
    Brett Hawke

    Well done! Great letter. I’d like to get Ben on my podcast.

    • avatar
      Marie Gamalski

      As a former competitive swimmer I can relate to what was for me, deep depression and a “what now” hangover when that part of my life was finished. While I cannot countenance insurrection, I CAN feel sympathy for a perfectionists (that’s what we all are after all) floundering in search of a new focus. My hope is Mr. Keller will find a therapist or life coach to guide him onto a new path after his legal difficulties are finished. If he finds he can’t do it for himself, perhaps initially he can do so for his children…the pride they’d feel to see their hero pick himself up, and start on a new path would be immense for them, AND Mr. Keller. I’m keeping a good thought.

      • avatar
        Deb

        Are you kidding??If black people did this their blood would be a over the floors of the Capital or they would be in jail.He deserves to go to prison for one hell of a long time.Period

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      If a minority person did anything like that . The world would go on with the stereotypes about “thugs’ there is not a ready ever to make right out of wrong unless it’s a white man . He about be disciplined and forgotten about and made a poster child for the priveledged and and the “right white”

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        Correct!

      • avatar
        Sandr

        Amen! Sick of people reasoning and justifying when a white person is a blatant white supremacist. It’s all about the narrative and poc never get any sympathy regardless of their situation. Another example of white privilege at its finest.

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        They did call them thugs

      • avatar
        Regina

        Truth, exactly, why people are not seeing this is beyond me. Who are you helping if your punishment is different from someone’s who we know would be more stiff?
        Why do you ( those who dole out the punishment ) act like the price is the same for everyone?
        You want unity when it comes to whites getting the stiffest of punishments, charges and obvious accountability. NO! It should not be.
        You are still pissing on someone ( the non- white) and trying to convince them that it’s raining.

    • avatar
      Mike

      That swimmer must never be allowed to compete again

      • avatar
        Peter

        He doesn’t need to! Already won a bunch of Gold’s!! Wooo!!

  3. avatar
    Cheryle

    He is an adult and responsible for his actions. He was given a gift and a opportunity. In the end he squandered both. No excuses. But thank you Ben Fisher for reaching out.

    • avatar
      Pepper

      Nice letter. It should serve as a recipe for those in any career that have left their profession and are seeking a new identity. In the old days we called it a mid-life crisis. I understand that some people will lash out against family, friends, and society in some barbaric manner. There is help. Through nutrition, religion, or education we can change our lives to give it a purpose. However, when a crime has been committed, one must suffer the consequences,that is the first step.

  4. avatar
    Donna

    Interesting! Shine your light upon the world that has far too much darkness. We all make choices in life at different stages and we have to live with those choices. Hopefully somebody has learned something valuable from such unwise choices that were made on January 6, 2021 against U.S.A. and the democracy for which it stands.

    • avatar
      Nica

      I’m going to say what every right winger says when a black man gets killed by the police…” Maybe they should learn to respected authority, and they wouldn’t get themselves into these kind of situations”…

  5. avatar
    Sharon Gaines

    Ben, thank you for taking the time to write such an encouraging letter to help out a fellow athlete. I hope your wisdom is taken in the manner in which you wrote it. Your advice is genuine and I can feel empathy from someone who understands; not his actions, but the high that comes from competing in a sport. Many athletes do not know how to get that adrenaline high after they graduate from high school, college or even from retiring from being a pro-athlete. Some, as you said, turn to drugs. My husband was a football coach. Many times when an athlete becomes injured and unable to compete do they become lost. Their whole identity is wrapped up in their sport. It is definitely sad. I believe their family, friends and community can help along the way. I love sports and believe it is as important in life as art, education, etc. Definitely, this athlete was looking for something he lost, but he looked in the wrong place. I hope he takes your advice and turns this into a positive. If he does, not only could he influence and help many athletes, but also future citizens of our country. Thank you, Ben for deciding to write and publish this letter. Great job!

  6. avatar
    Tracey

    Privilege. He didn’t fall into volunteering to help marginalized people. He didn’t fall into coaching little league teams. He didn’t fall into coaching young swimmers. Now, he gets an, “Aw, we all have problems”. Wow.

  7. avatar
    Tiffany Vang

    Ben Fisher, you are so kind. You earn my deep respect.

    • avatar
      Tadpole

      I guess he deserves sympathy and a second chance because he is white. Had this been a black person he would be the thug that deserves consequences and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law

  8. avatar
    Frances Daly

    Bens letter is exactly what is needed now, its
    a great letter, beautifully written, well done for publishing it.

  9. avatar
    Monika

    I fully agree with Ben. As a nurse who has worked with hundreds of people I learned so much about the human spirit. Klete has what it takes to become a huge icon for many and I know he will do it.

  10. avatar
    VG

    Im all for growth after he faces the criminal consequences for his adult actions. If we can throw teenagers into the system and throw away their lives, Captain America can punished.

    • avatar
      MO

      Thank you for the well intended letter. Are you comparing emotional resilience in swimmers with concussions and drug use in other Sports? If you think difficulties dealing with real life arise from being an elite athlete, then you need to do a deeper introspection. I’ll provide a possible path for the introspection… I’m sorry to say this, but your analysis might be coming from privilege and entitlement. If you do not know how to deal with life after sport is because you had the privilege of swimming being your only worry in life. There are many athletes that do no go through this because they (or their parents maybe) had the sense of instilling them that a sport is just a sport. That if you become a professional athlete that is just a job which is part of something larger, your life.

      If you are an athlete or a parent of an athlete right now, you can maybe look at role models on this. One example would be Rafael Nadal who always talks about tennis just being a sport and his job but that it is not his life, just part of it, and that he is well aware that that part of his life could end at any moment because of an injury.

      Hope my comment helps to shape at least one well rounded person who is or can become an elite athlete.

  11. avatar
    Sarah

    I appreciated your letter. As a former competitive college cross- country/track and field athlete I experienced many of the same emotions. There is a true “addiction” to the endorphins that the body produces after a hard workout or race. The comrade of being on a collegiate team is unlike anything you experience as a professional. My career ended with an unexpected injury. After a tough journey I was lucky to find a career in health care that is rewarding. I still long for the rush of a race and have found a new team dynamic. I am also a mother of two beautiful African American girls who deserve to grow up with the same opportunities I did as a white woman. I believe in forgiveness, love and a better tomorrow and believe America will heal. Trying to explain to a 7 year old girl what happened at the capital and/or what the confederate flag represents is an impossible conversation. Representing our country at the Olympics is an honor. I hope this letter provides reflection, hope and an avenue for a better tomorrow.

  12. avatar
    Anonymous

    Its the best lone can hope for that Klete will have actransformative moment

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      No one seem to be understanding the gravity of the situation. Keller, being of sound mind and discretion, took it upon himself to participate in an act or conduct that is abhorrent. Ben Fisher, I also understand where you’re coming from with your polished analysis and attempt to give someone a character they do not have. He should be made to suffer the consequences of his action. As a black person, I will not venture to say “If he was black” but I will say, if he was human. Swimming is as much a sport as discipline. It is important not to become a recalcitrant supporting some kind of Kakistocrat.

  13. avatar
    Steve Doherty

    I’m not a swimmer. I’m a middle aged man in my late 50’s. This letter is not only a letter to Klete, it is a letter to humanity. Thanks for writing it, and thanks to swimming world for publishing it. Every human being should strive to apply the techniques and lessons in the letter to their lives no matter what their background/backstory is. Thanks again for sharing your light and hard earned wisdom so that all of us can grow and learn from it.

  14. avatar
    Em

    While your forgiveness and askance of growth may be appreciated by many, it is not condoned by most of us directly affected by the Trump administration. As a former D1 swimmer, upon retiring in 2015 myself nor most any of my other teammates, including several Olympians, had any struggle whatsoever with not embracing fascism. Those teammates that are currently Trump supporters had already made their views known long before he was in office. As for the rest of us, we know its wrong. We know its here. We know it needs to be quashed. We fight against it. Keller here does not. For someone to have struggled with retiring and found community within the ranks of literal Nazis means that they had some sort of inclination to ways of hatred before retiring. It is an incredibly poor and borderline offensive excuse to blame mental health issues and a bit of a life crisis for rising fascists. You may have the privilege to forgive and wish well but the rest of us, be we Black swimmers, Indigenous swimmers, Latinx swimmers or LGBTQ+, any swimmer who isn’t a cis white man, we are absolutely allowed to openly condemn this man so we choose. He is not ANY part of my community. He is way too far gone. I challenge you to ask yourself why you penned this letter. Why would you ask our diverse community to embrace someone that is openly siding with white supremacy, transphobia, sexism, etc.? That is harmful and I think you know it. You cannot meet fascism with simple kindness. If you could, it would have already been defeated.

    • avatar
      Stephanie

      Perfect response. Thank you for writing it.

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      Well said

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      He is part of your community. He’s human, he’s american. Don’t bring in other communities that you don’t belong too. Don’t talk for the lgbt+ community if you’re not part of it.

  15. avatar
    J

    While I ‘understand’ the spirit of your letter, I’m sorry: Mr. Keller is a grown man privy to the advantages of a celebrated career which he could have parlayed into all manner of positive works. Instead, he chose to join in an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. Where were the calls for clemency for Michael Vick for dogfighting? No sir: he had his chance to serve as an example to follow. Now, he should serve time as an example of how not to squander ones life and privileges.

    • avatar
      Bobby G.

      There were calls for clemency with Michael Vick and a path for forgiveness. He is now a constant (almost daily) guest on espn to provide football analysis. I’m not condoning what he did, but there was a path provided to Michael Vick to reinvent his life.

  16. avatar
    Bob

    Ben. Why don’t you get a list of all of The BLM and Antifa looters and send them a letter? Make sure to include your home address

  17. avatar
    Sandra

    We told Colin Kaepernick to GET OUT for kneeling to ask white people to stop murdering unarmed Black Americans . . .

  18. avatar
    JD

    If I had been present I hope I would have gone inside too. The situation could have been much worse, and perhaps it should have. We are at war and it’s getting hot. I’m glad there are so many brave Patriots out there. MAGA. Now go ahead and bite me, but welcome to the list.

  19. avatar
    Loretta C Myers

    God is Love. The answer to our all our situations

  20. avatar
    Nadia

    Ben Fisher, what an inspirational letter! Everyone makes mistakes in life and there are repercussions to go along with these mistakes. Your letter can relate to many athletes around the globe. Thank you for sharing this empathic letter. I hope it resonates with Kelly for whatever the future holds for him.

  21. avatar
    Shelley

    We don’t have to make everything about race or ethnicity. The guy was an idiot who fell prey to nasty folks and had too little self-esteem to fight his way back. There are plenty of former skin heads who recognize this. That said nobody is saying he shouldn’t be punished. But hoping for his eventual redemption is the kind and human thing to do.

  22. avatar
    Frank

    OMG!!! W privilege on full display. Nothing new here. SAD!!!

  23. avatar
    Grandmaster

    Where is your letter to the families of all of the black people MURDERED by cops? How about to all of the black people falsely imprisoned and put to death because of an unjust legal system? Would Klete be remorseful had he not gotten caught? Will the members of gangs get an excuse from you once they are caught. After all, they mostly grow up in disadvantaged circumstances such as poorer schooling, medical treatment, employment opportunities, more contacts with police initiated by police, etc. Yet, with everything else equal, a person of color has prove themselves worthy of an opportunity to just be considered to be able to be better than how they look. Whereas people who look like you only have to present your accomplishments or who knows you. People don’t get to choose their color or eco-socilial circumstances, your buddy chose to identify with Trump. I am unable to accept that your friend got lost. I think that your buddy is a racist, fascist, white supremacist. If you support or defend his actions in any way, what does that say about you?

  24. avatar
    Ricky

    Ben, your letter reeks of white privilege at its finest. I’m white. I’m racist but I try to learn how to dismantle my inner racism by recognizing the issues that perpetuated and encourage the systemic racism at large. Would you write that kind of letter to Colin Kaepernick or BLM activists or even Black athletes? Whenever a person of color got arrested, people like you allowed others to say that they should follow the law and they gotta be prosecuted but with Klete being white, you’re trying to make him look like a victim more than a criminal. What are you trying to do, Ben? Fascism is racism, racism is racism. The only way to beat fascism and racism is to defeat it outright like the Americans did do to the Nazis and Confederates. There is no turnaround to that, none whatsoever.

  25. avatar
    Anonymous

    If those were black/brown people, nobody would even TRY to make excuses.. let alone try to understand
    Call it what it is… WHITE PRIVILEGE… Okay? Give us a break. White privilege adults all need to have an “ah- hah” moment.

  26. avatar
    Amy

    Raise your hand if you aren’t remotely interested in the redemption arc of violent domestic terrorists.

    • avatar
      Marsha

      I make a motion that the Olympic commitee get the Olympic medals that Klete won returned. Keep in mind that Reggie Bush returned the Heisman Trophy. He will be granted time to think about his actions while serving time.

  27. avatar
    Anonymous

    Just compare those rioters who burned vehicles and looted business establishments.. Which is more shameful actions.. Well, you’re guess is as good as mine..

  28. avatar
    Marsha

    Return the medals that he won and trash them.

  29. avatar
    Amanuel

    He came out of the closets. KKK. He disrespected the People’s house, and our legislators. And one of the most heartening was dishonoring the men and women who died for American. The Arlington national cemetery is waking distant from US capital.

  30. avatar
    Gio

    Ben, I think your dream letter is incorrectly meant to turn the other cheek, aka MLK; it should instead slap Klete’s face by any means necessary. Thanks for your colorblind optimism.
    This letter to Klete gives the nazi soldier an an excuse for stretching his hand to eye level and asks of us to forgive this poisonous bee for being part of the evil hive. Sorry, no can do.
    Hey Klete.. what were u thinking?….
    1: Putting your swimming jacket to commit a crime?
    2: not wearing protective mask for Covid?
    3: invading the Capital with intent to overthrow a government?
    4: to drink the koolaid of a con man’s cult?
    How could you?
    Don’t expect a pardon from Biden, MLM or Antifa.
    I’ll bet Klete will write a book and find Jesus in jail; cause that’s where Christian deities love to hang out.

    Don’t loose hope, cause the king of the bees might join you in jail, after his second impeachment and indictment. Birds of a feather

  31. avatar
    Marsha

    And Reggie Bush returned The Heisman Trophy. The Olympic commitee should demand that all of Klete’s medals be returned asap. What a disgrace.

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