Dan Jervis: ‘I want to be that role model for someone’ – swimmer opens up about being gay
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“It took 24 years to be who I was, but now I’m happy. I look in the mirror and love who I am.”
A wide smile spreads across Dan Jervis’ face as he says those words.
Fresh out of the World Championships in Budapest, the Welsh long-distance swimmer is a few weeks away from his third consecutive Commonwealth Games. In Birmingham, he will be looking to add a gold medal in the 1500m freestyle to the bronze he won in Glasgow in 2014 and the silver won on the Gold Coast four years ago.
The self-proclaimed ‘valley boy’ will enter the Games full of confidence – having reached the 1500m final on his Olympic debut in Tokyo last year, finishing fifth.
But his positivity has been driven as much by changes in his personal life as by events in the pool – with Jervis now set to speak publicly for the first time about being gay.
In two exclusive interviews with the BBC LGBT Sports Podcast and BBC Sport Wales, Jervis shares his story.
“Pools were closed – I was training for the Olympics in a lake”
In the small village of Resolven where Jervis grew up, rugby rules.
But when his grandparents took him to the local pool, swimming became his sport.
“My claim to fame is that I could do 10 meters without an armband when I was one year old,” laughs Jervis.
“Swimming was my interest. It was the thing I got used to and felt safe in, and I loved that when I went to school there was no other swimmers I knew. It sounds so bad, but I wasn’t the most academic and I loved having something I was better at than others.
“If you asked me 18 years ago, my dream has always been to go to the Olympics and win an Olympic gold medal – and it still is today.”
The Welshman achieved the first part of that dream in 2021, although as all Olympians in Tokyo have experienced, the preparation has not been easy. With the Covid pandemic causing the Games to be postponed for a year, Jervis had to adapt his training.
“It was probably the most stressful few months of my entire life,” admits Jervis.
“The pools were closed, I had moved in with my parents and was using the spin bike in the garage – and then when things calmed down I was training in a lake. I don’t know how everyone did, but you just did, and if you have a goal, you will find a way to achieve it.
“I remember standing in Tokyo ready to go out, hearing them welcome the athletes for the Olympic 1500m freestyle final. My whole life had been built around that exact moment, and I remember thinking about it. take into account.
“With an Olympics, you never know if it will happen again, and I remember everything about it.”
“I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ – I was basically typing the words”
Until today, he was the Jervis the world knew – a proud Welshman, an Olympian and one of Britain’s top swimming stars.
Now he’s ready to talk about being gay too.
“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I always knew,” Jervis says.
“It was something in the back of my mind, which bothered me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I liked – but it happened about three years ago where I knew that I had to face this.
“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds pretty drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but something was missing to make me really happy.”
And so, over a long period of time, Jervis began to talk about his sexuality to those close to him. As he says himself, at the age of 24 he finally started to be who he was. He confided in a counselor he’d known for years – and then it was his best friend, as they watched TV on the sofa.
“At that time, I had never said those words out loud to myself,” admits Jervis, now 26.
“I said to him, ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say, “I’m gay.” It was still…I couldn’t say it, I was basically punching out the words.
“She was pretty shocked but awesome, and that was exactly the reaction I wanted. I got all the good reactions, and the way I described it is that I won’t change as a person.
“I’m still the Dan you always knew. You just know something else about me now.”
“I want to be that person for someone”
It was the stories of previous guests on the BBC’s LGBT Sport podcast that, in part, inspired Jervis to speak publicly about his sexuality.
“Michael Gunning is a swimmer and an absolute legend, and he said I should attend this show. I also messaged hammer thrower Osian Jones about it,” Jervis said.
“I also heard Mark Foster say on your podcast that he wanted to add his weight to make people’s lives better, and I feel that too. When I was younger in swimming, I didn’t know any swimmers, so I don’t I didn’t have someone I could turn to who was like me I want to be that person for someone.
It’s not just in the sports world that Jervis hopes to be that role model.
“I am a devout Christian,” says the Welshman.
“I love God, and of all the things in my life, my faith is what I’m most proud of. And there’s this thing where people say you can’t be Christian and gay together, and I sat there knowing you maybe because I am!”
And so, in many ways, Jervis’ story is about owning the different parts of what makes him who he is – his Welsh, his faith, his sexuality, his sporting success – and showing that no of these things is contradictory.
“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he says.
“I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in – until I thought, ‘Just be you.’
“You know, it’s just before the Commonwealth Games and there will be children and adults watching who will know that I am just like them and proud of who I am.
“And for so long I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people dying because of it. They hate themselves so much they end their lives.
“So if I can just be someone that people can look at and say, ‘Yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s fine.”
Dan Jervis spoke exclusively to the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast and BBC Wales Sport. You can hear the full conversation on BBC Sounds and find out more on BBC Wales Today.