JACKSON TWP. As the third speaker in the Kent State Stark Speaker Series, held Feb. 27, Olympic medalist, swimmer Anthony Ervin spoke to the audience and said, "You learn from a loss."
Ervin has had losses in his life and spoke about how those losses eventually turned his life around to come back and swim in the Rio Olympics and win a gold medal at the age of 35. Sixteen years after being the youngest swimmer to win gold in the 50 meter, he became the oldest to win the event.
Ervin first won the gold in 2000 at the Sydney Games as a teenager where he was titled as the fastest person on the planet. Ervin retired at age 22 in 2003 after winning his first gold, two World Championships and seven NCAA titles.
Ervin captivated the audience with the story of the down side of his life, even as a young boy, and his humorist tales. He shared his stories of going out to the pool when he thought his mother was asleep to swim because he loved it so much. It was then that a fence was put around the pool so he could not get in without his parents. He went on to do great things at the age of eight as he was winning events in the 10 and under age group beating the older kids. Coaches saw his potential and told him he would be going to the Junior Olympics.
He did go to the Junior Olympics, before competing, he got sent home due to a little trouble he got into with matches and burning a small hole in bed sheet of the hotel room.
As time went on, he continued improving his times in swimming, but lost some of his passion and desire. He found out that he had Tourette syndrome adding the stigma of his tics to his young life. His father lost his job which caused tension at home and Erwin began getting in trouble in school.
He made it passed all of his struggles and a coach from the University of California-Berkley took a chance because he saw the intensity Erwin had for the sport and offered him a full ride scholarship.
Once he got to college, Ervin realized he was free, no parents and he said he began drinking and having sex and was not attending swim practice and going to classes. The swim coach set him down to watch video of the best swimmers in the world and told him to find what it was that made them the best. He did not mimic what one great swimmer did; instead he used what he took from each and put all of that into practice as he swam. As a freshman, he won the college championships and broke the world record.
Ervin also spoke about the loss the American 400-meter relay team had to the Australians in the Olympics. The Americans had never lost that event. He worried that the Australian swimmer was ahead of him so he used all of his energy and caught up with him but then stalled out. It was the loss that taught him not to let what someone else was doing get to him. He needed to swim his race.
Through the years, he tried to calm the deep-seeded depression. He said no one understood what he was going through and he tried drugs and alcohol and, eventually, he attempted suicide by taking 33 of his Tourett’s medication at once. He remembers blacking out and then was awaken by sunlight in the morning. His thought was that he even failed at killing himself.
Eventually, a friend called and asked Ervin to come to New York City and teach swimming at his swim school. Ervin said that was a turning point for him, realizing, being with kids, that he had lost his creativity, his sense of play.
He got back in the water and found peace in his life and went on to find that gold. He said he realized what it meant to have friends and family and that is very important to him today. He went back to school and went on to receive a master’s degree.
His stories of the Olympics and childhood had the audience laughing while his struggles in life silenced them.
Ervin has written a book about his journey called "Chasing Water, Elegy of An Olympian."
The next speakers in the series will be Crossroads: Cal Thomas and Juan Williams, Why Our Leaders consistently Fail to Meet on Common Ground at 7:30 p.m. April 12. All though the event is free tickets are required and can be picked up at the Main Hall information desk at the university. For more information, visit www.kent.edu/stark/featured-speakers-series.