Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides
3 words: introspective, unflinchingly honest, surprising
The book I can’t stop talking about? It’s this one.
Ervin and Markides have written themselves one doozy of a memoir / biography mash-up.
This book’s got in goin’ on in multiple ways.
First, the structure is fascinating. If you like books with multiple viewpoints, you’re gonna love this thing. Ervin and Markides share the storytelling, and the story is so much more interesting than it would’ve been with only one viewpoint. Ervin tells his story in his own words, which brings an intimacy and an immediacy to the narrative. But Markides’s writing about Ervin is equally fascinating, because we see him from two angles.
Second, Ervin’s story is so outrageous and complex, it’s only believable because it’s actually true. No way you’d get me to buy this story if it were fiction.
Dude won the gold medal in 50 meter freestyle at the 2000 Olympics, then fell off the face of the Earth.
Except really, he fell into and out of school, drug abuse, homelessness, tattooing, rock & roll, cigarette smoking, nearly every type of high-risk behavior imaginable, and all kinds of different belief systems. He nearly wrecked himself.
Then, in 2011, he started swimming again.
And by 2012, he qualified for the Olympic team.
It’s pretty stunning.
Roll in there, the fact that he has Tourette’s, is half African-American and half Jewish (but doesn’t particularly identify with either group), and is training for the 2016 Olympics right this minute, and People, We’ve Got Ourselves a Story Here.
This book is a very intriguing look inside the mind of an elite athlete who’s also a philosopher.
And the book contains remarkable descriptions of Ervin’s form as a swimmer. Markides had me breathless when I read these words:
“It was strange to reconcile the unhurried, cerebral Ervin I knew with the swift aquatic creature slicing toward me. But it wasn’t even his speed that astonished me so much as the way in which he traveled through the water–although ‘through’ isn’t even exactly right. There was something in his swimming I’d never seen before: he seemed to swim not through the water but over it.” (95)
Yowser, guys. That’s some good stuff there.
(He’s the one in mint green.)
So yeah. This book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not the usual heroic sports story; it’s way more more nuanced than that.
I’m grateful to Ervin for “torching his soul” to write this book, and to Markides for writing such a stunning, close third-person view of Ervin’s story thus far.
Anyone else gonna be watching the Olympic trials to look for the guy with the sleeves?