Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin explains, in his own words, why he is making a comeback and why he decided to auction his gold medal to raise funds for tsunami relief.
By Anthony Ervin
A week prior to Christmas I was in Japan doing a couple of swim clinics when I began contemplating making a comeback into the sport of swimming.
I had retired a year earlier, forfeiting even an attempt at making the Athens Olympic team, in pursuit of music: a passion I was always afraid to even try to go for.
But a year into that, I found myself in Japan, once again in the grip of the sport of swimming, even if I was retired! Seeing the reaction of the Japanese swimmers, from kids to college sportsmen, rekindled a fire I thought had died. Maybe I was reaching people on that level of inspiration, learning, and understanding that I so very much desired to gain through my music, but had never truly believed I was able to do with my talents in swimming. So with this new-found discovery of the powers of my own abilities, I began searching and planning a path for a return to the water.
It did not take long before I had decided that if I was to swim again, I needed a cause in which I could give back to the world for the myriad blessings I have received. Keeping in tune with my affinity for water, I turned to my agent and asked if flooding was a problem in Japan. She told me yes, and I told her I would like to be involved in non-profit benefits to aid flood victims. She nodded and said that that could be done.
On the plane flight back my coach Mike Bottom extended to me an invitation to join him and the Cal-Berkeley swim team in winter training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I said I would take it into consideration.
The next day I found myself at "home-home" with my parents and brother for Christmas, an experience that always brings many feelings from my heart to the surface of my consciousness. On Christmas Eve I figured that it couldn't hurt to at least get in a little physical conditioning, and without yet making any mental commitment to come out of retirement, I made the call and told Mike I would meet him at the Olympic Training Center.
The evening of Christmas day, I spent some time talking online with an old roommate and good friend who is now in graduate school at UCLA. He recommended that I pick up the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo, believing that this book would be good for me to read based on what he felt was going on in my head. I trusted in his taste in literature (after having proven itself in the past) and I went out and picked up a copy the next day.
Later on that evening I found myself watching TV. The news was just getting to the public that a massive earthquake had struck underneath the Indian Ocean and that a resultant tidal wave (tsunami – the Japanese
word for this phenomenon) had devastated Indonesia. At this time that was about all the information I knew.
I went to bed that night and woke up at 4 a.m. to catch my flight to Colorado Springs. During the series of flights that eventually landed me in Colorado Springs I read "The Alchemist," a novel about pursuing your
dreams, among many many other things. The time spent in thought on the plane after finishing the book cannot be replicated here in this writing, the emotions and thoughts too powerful to be retained by the memory of my mind but an undeniable truth in the memory of my heart. I wanted to give back to the world in some kind of way, and when I thought of a way to do so, the earth itself split open and made this cause an overwhelming reality.
Walking off that plane of this I was sure: I would donate my gold medal, my most prized possession, to the relief of the tsunami victims, and I would return to professional swimming since I would have to try to acquire a new gold medal in Beijing in 2008. Sure, I could have taken it as just a coincidence that less than a week before the greatest flood devastation of our generation (and perhaps many generations into the past) I saw fit to decide that flood relief would be my humanitarian side project for getting back into the sport. But I didn't want to respond to it like it was coincidence.
The next couple of days, amidst the physical beating I was receiving in training, I was glued to CNN and the Internet as the stories began to unfold of the total devastation the tsunamis had wreaked across several nations. The body count was rising faster than it was falling. My heart felt like it was gripped in a clenched fist as I realized how many of this rising death toll were only children, innocent lives snuffed out. Amidst the snow that was falling, the frozen tears of the earth, there even seemed to be fewer stars in the sky. I began to question my course of action.
The sheer magnitude of the catastrophic disaster was now overwhelming for me and I felt so helpless and small, afraid that even giving away all I had of value would just be a grain of salt in a sea of help that was needed. But my heart strengthened me again, strengthened me with the faith that my donation and whatever inspiration others might see in it, did matter.
And that is the message that I would like to put out there: everyone can help in little or large amounts, and that everyone together can make a difference.