Caleb Carlson is among millions of athletes who has had his athletic pursuits dealt a cruel blow by the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic.
The swimmer from Dixon, however, still has his sights set on his long-term goal, and that is to be wearing the red, white and blue in a Summer Olympic Games.
Carlson swims at Drury University, a Division II school located in Springfield, Missouri. He majors in exercise physiology and biology, and aspires to become a chiropractor. There’s a good chance he’ll eventually wind up working at the family business, Carlson Chiropractic Clinic, in Dixon.
Carlson and his swimming teammates at Drury were slated to compete at the Division II national championships, on March 11-14 in Geneva, Ohio. They arrived at the site on March 8 to prepare.
On Wednesday, March 11, Carlson was able to compete in the 50-yard freestyle preliminaries and turned in a time of 20.14 seconds, .01 behind the 16th-place swimmer, Iskender Baslakov of Fresno Pacific. Baslakov advanced to the next round, Carlson didn’t.
The next race for Carlson was to be on Friday, March 13, for the prelims of the 100-yard breaststroke. It was his best chance, as he entered seeded ninth with a time of 54.02 seconds.
On the way to the pool on Thursday morning, however, word was received the NCAA canceled the competition. Eventually, that grew into all winter sports that were wrapping up, as well as all NCAA spring sports, out of concerns over the virus.
Carlson did his best to deal with that gut punch.
“It really wasn’t too disappointing for me because I knew everything was going to get canceled, and I’ve still got 2 more years left,” Carlson said. “I felt really bad for the seniors.”
Carlson’s roommate at Drury, a Russian named Pavel Semochkin, had been seeded first in the 100 butterfly and 400 medley relay. He didn’t get a chance to compete at all.
Carlson’s immediate future at Drury is up in the air. The school’s spring break is being extended into a second week, from March 23-27, though the possibility of online classes, beginning on Monday, March 30, is there.
If the virus is under control, classroom classes at Drury resuming sometime in April is a possibility. There is also a possibility classes in any form don’t resume this spring.
Carlson’s swimming is also temporarily on hold. There isn’t a pool around that is open to train in, and even finding a gym to lift weights has been an issue. Recently, he’s taken to lifting split logs that double as firewood at the home of his parents, Steve and Kristin Carlson, to stay fit. He’s confident his swimming ability, especially as a sprinter, won’t be too adversely effected.
“As long as I have the technique down when the time comes, I’ll be fine,” Carlson said. “All I’m trying to do is keep my strength up.”
Carlson has harbored Olympic dreams since he began swimming for the Sterling Stingrays about 8 years ago. That was the mindset the older boys on the team had, something that had been passed down from James Wike, a legendary Sterling swimmer who competed at Auburn University and swam at an elite level.
“All of the older guys on the [Stingrays], that was their main goal, and I was just following them, I guess,” Carlson said. “Ever since I started swimming, it’s always been my dream.”
That dream has been progressing forward. As a Dixon High School junior, Carlson posted a time of 23.51 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle while competing for his club team, the Academy Bullets, based out of Aurora. The time required to qualify for the Olympic Time Trials, set last June, was a 23.19.
“I was close to the time and I knew it,” Carlson said, “so for the last 3 years I’ve had this in the back of my mind to make it in the 50 free.”
At the Missouri Invitational this past November, competing for Drury, Carlson finally had a breakthrough. He was able to swim the event twice, and the second of those swims resulted in a time of 22.72 seconds, well below the Olympic Time Trials standard.
“I was in the outside lane, and I basically just went all out,” Carlson said. “It felt really good. As soon as I got out of the pool, both of my coaches hugged me. It was definitely exciting. All of the stuff that I had been doing the last 3 years, it’s all come into place.”
With school up in the air, Carlson is doing his best to stay sharp for those Olympic Trials. He noted eight sprinters will make the team, to fill individual events, as well as the 200, 400 and 800 relays.
That is assuming, however, this year’s Summer Olympics in Japan aren’t canceled or delayed by a year. Carlson, 20, can still set his sights on the 2024 Games in Paris. He’ll balance swimming with going to chiropractor school, possibly at Palmer Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.
“If it doesn’t happen this year, I will probably try again in 4 years and see if I can do it,” Carlson said. “This is the pinnacle of swimming. It’s trying to go to the Olympics.”
High School: Dixon
College: Drury University, sophomore
FYI: Member of the swim team at Drury. … Posted a time of 22.72 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle at the Missouri Invitational in November. That is under the Olympic Time Trial qualifying standard of 23.19. … Studying to become a chiropractor