From TEAMUSA.org, By Maura Gladys:
|Ervin at the 2012 Austin Grand Prix|
“It’s not a comeback,” he says. “I’m just swimming again. I’m just enjoying what I’m doing and the environment that I’m in.”
But when Anthony Ervin’s hand touched the wall at the end of the men’s 50-meter freestyle at this weekend’s USA Swimming Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, the anonymity that Ervin had ensconced himself in for the past 12 years was over, and the growing buzz about Ervin grew even louder.
Ervin posted the fastest preliminary time (22.30) in the 50 meter free among all swimmers, earning him a spot in the championship heat. He swam even faster in the final, clocking a 22.27, good for third place. He also finished fourth in the 100 meter final with a 49.19 time.
The strong showing means that Ervin is a very real challenger for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in London.
But before these past few months, the 2000 Summer Olympic gold medalist’s name was rarely mentioned.
Very little information is available on what Anthony Ervin has been up to for the past 8 years.
|Ervin celebrates winning a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. (Getty Images)|
After winning a gold and silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as an 18-year-old, Ervin was known as one of USA Swimming’s brightest prospects. He won two gold medals at the 2001 World Championships in Japan, had a successful college career at Cal, and swam in the 2003 World Championships.
Then he stopped.
When searching for Ervin’s name online, the first two hits are his Wikipedia page and his swimming biography from his senior year at Cal, the ‘02-‘03 season. His Wikipedia page mentions his work with the Manhattan Makos swim team in New York City and that he has been coaching with the Oakland Undercurrent since last spring. The section labeled “Retirement” is blank. To the casual observer, Ervin’s swimming journey stopped ten years ago.
But that’s really when it was just beginning.
“I needed some time to grow up, needed to live outside of the box or outside of the pool for a little while before I was able to come back as a more self-actualized person,” Ervin says, speaking with the burden of someone who has given an extreme amount of thought to his answer.
After leaving swimming in 2003, Ervin moved to New York City, where he worked with the Manhattan Makos swim team, then moved back to California to pursue a master’s degree at U.C. Berkeley.
There, he studied culture, sports and education with his advisor Dr. Derek Van Rheenan, and unloaded a weight that he didn’t even realize he was carrying, helping him take his first steps back toward the pool.
“I was in grad school and I was floundering,” Ervin says. “I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it. [Dr. Van Rheenan] wanted me to write a paper about my life and sport. He told me to be as brutal or as kind as I wanted. So, I did it, and after sitting at a desk and writing 50 pages I just let it all out. I was purging myself. It definitely had a cathartic effect, just seeing it all on paper. It took a weight that I didn’t even know I was carrying and put it into written form.”
|Ervin with co-gold medalist Gary Hall. (Getty Images)|
But there was no big moment or epiphany for Ervin where he realized that he was ready to jump back into the pool. Instead, he says, he metamorphosized back into an athlete, gradually easing his way back into the water.
“When I was home last December, I started thinking about what I was eating, because I was eating really unhealthy, so I started eating healthier,” Ervin says. “That turned into, ‘Well, maybe I should do some exercise.’ Then I was back in the pool. When I went back to school in the spring [of 2011], I started working with Teri McKeever, (the current head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s swim team). At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about competing. Then, just day-by-day, month-by-month, I finally decided, you know, I’m gonna go to this meet.”
That meet was the 2011 Elite Pro-Am in Oklahoma City last December where he swam a blazing 19.41 in the 50 free and 42.65 in the 100 free, prompting the first rumors of a comeback.
Ervin is a different swimmer now. Happier. More focused. More self-aware. He calls swimming a privilege and a vacation compared to the two jobs and grad school that he has waiting for him back home in California.
He is a better teammate and tries to “lift the floor and ceiling” for anyone that he meets, something he “had nothing do with” when he was younger. He realizes that what he does outside of the pool is more important that what he does in it.
Above all, he is grateful to the people in his life, like Van Rheenan, McKeever and countless others who helped him get to where he is and welcomed him back to the swimming world.
“It’s a blessing, and the people involved with these institutions make an opportunity like this a reality for me and I’m absolutely grateful for that,” Ervin says. “I thought I burned a lot of bridges when I left the sport. But I found as I’ve returned that everybody that I remember from before who was good to me, continues to be warm and receptive and go out of their way to help me, which I did not really expect.”
He’s still not completely sure why people have welcomed him back with such open arms. But after almost a decade away from elite swimming, he is getting closer to understanding what his journey means, not only to himself but to others. More importantly, he’s starting to believe in it too.
“I didn’t see in myself what other people saw,” he says. “I don’t think I really understood the impact that I had or potentially could have had if I had kept swimming. But even for what I did do, it was special to a lot of people. So, if I can give back in any way now, that’s my quest.”