… in the Capitol building with a bunch of sick losers? Even at his lowest, when he was living in his car, Klete Keller was never a loser, never sick. He was, by his own account (listen up – it’s a half hour long but worth the investment of time), an entitled jerk, a man who thought being an Olympian meant he could keep swimming swiftly and easily through post-Olympic life.

Life had other ideas, and, when Keller realized basically nobody besides a few swim team kids gave a shit that he was a champion swimmer, he got depressed and angry and stopped working (or was fired) and started drinking and lazing about. His wife threw him out and he spent extended time homeless and altogether down and out.

One of Keller’s former Olympic teammates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss Keller’s apparent descent, drew a line from the “goofy, oafish” swimmer he knew in the 2000s to the aimless, rudderless, 30-something man who, he speculated, became a perfect candidate to fall into a radical, conservative rabbit hole of conspiracy theorists and rioters involved in insurrection.

His sister eventually let him move in with her, and that’s when things started looking up for him.

Until a few days ago, he had a steady job in a real estate firm in Colorado; he might well have lost that job now. His name has been erased from the firm’s website. He faces possible arrest.

We needn’t waste time accounting for Keller’s big enthusiasm for Fuckface – that is apparently well documented in his (now-erased) social media. Anyone who wants to can be enthusiastic about Ff. But it’s certainly worth considering the fanaticism that brought him from Colorado to DC to the violence at the Capitol.

Having listened to him tell his story, I’ll offer this idea, sketchy and ill-informed as it has to be.

As I listened to Keller tell his tale, the phrase drama junkie kept coming to me. Also adrenalin junkie. After years and years of intense unrelenting swimming – in competitions, in practices – Keller had clearly built up a strong need for everything in life to be an unrelenting competitive test of his endurance in dramatic contests. He makes it clear that once his swimming career was over he entirely totally thoroughly collapsed. Ordinary vague daily life failed to be commensurate with the extraordinary small sharp warrior focus of the swimming pool. But Keller’s need for battle, self-testing, winning, superiority persisted.

Now this is a guy who dropped out of college – to focus on swimming, natch. One option as he left swimming would have been to finish his University of Southern California degree and get, like, a marketable skill. But he was, by his own admission, too arrogant for that. So down, down, down, he went. [Correction: According to this, he did eventually finish his degree.]

So my old friend Courtney, a really impressive all-around athlete, once sent me an article about the connection between athleticism and self-destructive behaviors. Here’s an excerpt from it:

If you’re an outdoor athlete and you’re good at it, you’re probably like I once was: a selfish, self-involved son of a bitch. It’s always more, more, more and me, me, me, and I was no different. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to do the hardest sport routes, to be the boldest on high, killer walls.

Why? Why not? I was addicted to climbing, and then to starvation, and when that wasn’t enough, I became addicted to drugs.

Maybe you see some of my method in your own madness. And perhaps your obsessions are “healthy”: wheatgrass, long runs, body sculpting, rock climbing. That’s great. But I tell you now, absent your passions you will feel the sharp scrape of withdrawal — just like any fixless junkie bug-eyed in a January alley. Reality can be reduced, at its sparest, to chemical reactions, our body craving the release of GABA, oxytocins, endorphins, serotonin, dopamine. It doesn’t care about their provenance. It just doesn’t. Cut off the source—any source—and you will pay.

The drama, injury, contests, even in some perverted sense the teamwork at the Capitol must have felt very familiar to poor Klete Keller, once a champion, then a loser, then a winner, and now at this late date once again a terrible loser. Turns out – maybe; I’m speculating – he never quite lost his addiction to bloody battle. And now he has drowned in it.

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