Cyprus Mail

A friendship formed in water

Olympic swimmer Anthony Ervin (left) and author Constantine Markides inside the Olympic village at the London Olympics in 2012

Writer Constantine Markides and gold medal US Olympic swimmer Anthony Ervin have united their talent, love of swimming and life adventures to bring their co-written book Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian to life. Whilst positive book reviews pour in, the men have embarked on further challenges: a new novel and training for the 2016 Olympics 2016 respectively.

39-year-old American born Cypriot Markides is the son of Kyriakos Markides, professor of sociology at the University of Maine who has successfully published nine books which have been translated into 13 languages, so writing seems to run in the family.

The younger Markides says he has always had an insatiable appetite to explore the world and write about it. In between performing random odd jobs to free up time to write, he’s been published in anthologies, literary magazines and even created and hosted a participatory literary reality show called ‘Fourth Fiction.’ He also worked and travelled as a journalist for the Cyprus Mail in the early 2000s. However, his big break came when he wrote an article about Ervin for Rolling Stone magazine.

Thirty-four-year-old Ervin, of Jewish and African-American descent, made many waves in the swimming world. He won two Olympic medals in the 2000 Olympics – a gold medal in the men’s 50-metre freestyle, and a silver medal as a member of the US relay team in the 4×100-metre freestyle event – as well as two World Championship golds. He became the first swimmer of African-American descent to medal in Olympic swimming.

However at age 22, he burnt out; auctioned off his gold medal to charity and quit competitive swimming. Diagnosed with Tourette’s as a teenager, Ervin had always felt an outsider, and that feeling hadn’t gone away; so he turned heavily to the comfort of drugs and women, free falling into pits of depression.

Ervin’s comeback was gradual. Initially, lack of money brought him back into swimming; coaching children. Getting back into the pool however, helped him kick his destructive habits and in 2011 Ervin began training again. In 2012 he was fit and able enough to compete in the London Olympics where he came fifth. Now, he’s preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

As a private swimming instructor and tutor in New York, Markides first met Ervin whilst coaching and teaching swimming to children in New York. Ervin had been out of the swimming world for a while by then, but “when Ervin started competing and swimming fast again, I proposed a magazine piece about him. That led to the 2012 Rolling Stone article, which later led to a book deal,” says Markides.

The book; Chasing Water, a sports biography about Ervin is a collaborative, original piece of work by the two men which will be released on April 5.

Chasing Water is published in April
Chasing Water is published in April

It’s already received excellent reviews. According to SwimSwam, “most memoirs from Olympians are puff pieces; ghost-written so blandly you fall asleep trying to make it to the end of the first chapter. Chasing Water is the opposite of that, an intimate, visceral experience you will appreciate.”

The two friends pooled their skills together for two years, although the book proposal alone took another year. “Anthony is restless. He likes stirring the waters and defying expectations and he’s also attracted to the bizarre. So we make a good fit. And I think because we are such good friends, we could go to some dark places in the book where others may not have been able to go to,” says Markides.

In between Ervin’s training schedule and Markides’ next project, the guys will be busy touring America from April to promote the book. Markides will be launching it in Cyprus at the end of May.

Still, Markides is eager to move on. “Once I finish a book, I want nothing more to do with it. The goal is to get rid of it, to get the tiger off your back. You write to get free from it.”

His next project is a novel which both Markides and his agent are excited about. “It’s stylistically simpler than my other manuscripts, and I hope more seductive. It deals with the changing nature of sexuality and relationships. It’s also filthy! The only way I’ll publish it is if my parents pledge never to read it. It’s set primarily in New York City, but two of the main characters are Cypriots.”

No matter where the book or their life paths reach, the two men will remain firm friends.

“We spent a couple of weeks on Monhegan, an island off the coast of Maine, plotting out every chapter, and discussing the voicing and stylistic changes. It was just the two of us in a house for two weeks. It was an intense time, especially as he had to revisit some of the darker periods of his life. We also had plenty of brawls along the way,” says Markides. “But it all worked out for the best in the end. We’re good friends.”


 Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian is available for preorder.

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