If you read the title of this post and thought, “Who is Anthony Ervin?” then you would be like every single coworker of mine I told in a huge rush of excitement that I couldn’t stay late because I was going to hear Anthony Ervin speak. Ervin, at age 35, won the gold medal in Rio for the men’s’ 50m Freestyle event. He also won the gold 16 years earlier, in Sydney 2000, tying Gary Hall Jr. Here’s what happened in Rio.
Thank you NBC Olympic coverage for not making this available on YouTube. Anyway. I’ve swum since I was 9 and I was watching the coverage the night Ervin won. I was at my parent’s cottage with 7 friends and I insisted on getting NBC going so we could watch the coverage. It took twenty minutes before we figured out how to do it but man, I’m so glad. I was screaming the whole race, cheering Ervin and Adrian and I was so excited when Ervin won. At age 35, he’s not your average sprinter and his story is crazy.
Flash forward not even a week. I got the monthly newsletter from Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. Yes, I know I post about them a lot. One of the highlighted author appearances was Anthony Ervin! He had a memoir out, Chasing Water, that he would be signing. I texted a swimming friend I’ve known since I was 9 when I started and we both looked forward to the date.
At dinner before the event, I asked my friend why the man I assumed was a ghost writer, Constantine Markides, was listed on the cover and why he would be appearing at the event that night. I’d never known a ghost writer to be so prominently credited in a sports memoir. My friend explained that Markides wrote at least half the book and that the format was a back-and-forth between Markides and Ervin, narrating what was happening in Ervin’s life as well as swimming in general. Markides was a swimmer himself and a writer. He was a good voice to add some context to the story.
We got to the event with time to get second-row seats. Half of the chairs were filled by people we were 100% positive were swimmers. A nearby school’s girls’ team showed up with wet hair and warm-ups on. This was our kind of crowd! The owner of the store, Mike, got up and introduced Ervin and Markides. It turns out Mike was a collegiate swimmer himself and knew both men from his time reporting for USA Swimming magazine. I love this bookstore even more now. Ervin and Markides each read a section of the book about the experimental World Sprint Team and Mike led them in a moderated discussion about its creation and their relationship.
Ervin was very down to earth. After watching interviews with other swimmers (not to be named here) during the coverage, I was amazed at how eloquent Ervin and Markides were and how he viewed his win as a privilege he worked hard for, not something he deserved because he trained. He spoke about how his achievements in the pool are so often a foil of his life and he wanted his readers to see his changing identity. He saw every performance (swim) as a rehearsal for the one that was coming next. Looking at it this way, being on the Olympic stage was something he’d been training for since his first appearance in 2000 through the Omaha trials. he didn’t want to write a conventional sports biography and teaming with Markides seemed like a good way to do this. The two wrote an article together for Rolling Stone in 2012 which led them to form the relationship needed for this book. They went on a writers’ retreat in Markides’ home state of Maine for two weeks where they were able to pound out a good chunk of this book. I’m amazed Ervin was able to get away from training for that long, but we were assured the retreat house had a gym.
For anyone else who’s a big swim fan out there, you’ll be excited to hear Conner Jaeger came to support his Team USA teammate. Jaeger won the Silver in Rio for the men’s’ 1500m freestyle. (http://stream.nbcolympics.com/swimming-day-8-finals starting at 14:20, end around 30 minutes.)
Ervin and Markides signed books for everyone who came. They were really great, taking their time to talk with everyone and talk swimming with most of us. He brought his two medals (from the 50 and from the 4×100 freestyle relay [he swam the prelim, not the final]) and let us wear them! Those things are a lot heavier than I thought they would be. How cool is that? (Side note, Ervin sold his 2000 medal online and gave the proceeds of over $17,000 to charity so these are the only two he has.)
It was such a cool night and a great chance to meet a swimming legend. It even brought in my love of books which was even better! This was the first time I went to a book signing for an athlete but I think it was a good experience for me. Maybe there will be more of these in the future? Maybe.
Until next time, write on.