The Heartwarming Story Behind Caeleb Dressel's Blue Bandana
“There’s no worldly possession that means more to me than that bandana.”
Florida swimming phenom Caeleb Dressel topped the podium five times at the Tokyo Olympics. Each time he accepted a gold medal, it was with a bandana wrapped tightly around one hand.
Blue and patterned with little cows and flowers, the bandana accompanies the 24-year-old to swimming competitions as a reminder of the woman who helped him get there.
"There's no worldly possession that means more to me than that bandana," Dressel said in 2018. "I smell it. I kiss it. I don't care. I sleep with it next to my head every night."
The blue bandana belonged to Claire McCool, Dressel's math teacher at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, who died of breast cancer in 2017 at age 62. He was her student twice, first as a freshman in her geometry class, and later as a senior for statistics. Dressel called her, "Mama," as many students did.
McCool was there for Dressel when he made the difficult decision to take time off from swimming.
"He went through a little rough patch his senior year," McCool told The Florida Times-Union in 2016. "We were already close, but we had some really serious conversations about life and what is important."
For the 50-yard freestyle race at the 2016 SEC championships that ultimately sent him to the Olympics in Rio, Dressel swam with "MCCOOL" written under his eye.
"I had never felt that level of support and just to know that you mean that much to another human, another person, especially someone that's not in your family," McCool told WUFT after that race. "I keep going back to the word humbled. I'm just so humbled by it all and so appreciative that I've got him in my corner."
Dressel had McCool in his corner as well. She cheered him on as he vaulted to swimming stardom, winning two golds in Rio followed by seven golds in the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
Less than a year later, McCool lost her battle with cancer. Dressel was 21 years old when her husband Mike gifted him with one of her workout bandanas.
"The bandana is very significant," he told Yahoo Sports. "It's a piece of her that I'm always going to have, one physical piece that I have left of her."
Well, there goes our mascara.