Dan Jervis: ‘I want to be that role model for someone’ – swimmer opens up about being gay

Hosts: birmingham Dates: July 28-August 8
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV with additional broadcasts on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, the BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport mobile app

“It took me 24 years to be who I was, but now I’m happy. I look in the mirror and I like who I am.”

A wide smile spreads across Dan Jervis’s face as he says those words.

Fresh off competing at the World Championships in Budapest, the Welsh long-distance swimmer is weeks away from his third consecutive Commonwealth Games. In Birmingham, he will be looking to add a gold in the 1500m freestyle to the bronze won in Glasgow in 2014 and the silver earned on the Gold Coast four years ago.

The self-styled ‘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 fueled as much by changes in his personal life as by events at the pool, with Jervis now set to speak publicly for the first time about the fact that he’s gay.

In two exclusive interviews with the BBC LGBT Sports Podcast and BBC Sport Wales, Jervis shares his story.

“The pools had been closed, I was training for the Olympics in a lake”

Jervis won silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, with Australia winning gold through Jack McLoughlin and bronze thanks to Mack Horton.

In the small town of Resolven where Jervis grew up, rugby reigns.

But from the moment his grandparents took him to the local pool, swimming was the sport for him.

“My claim to fame is that I could do 10 meters without armbands when I was a year old,” laughs Jervis.

“Swimming was my interest. It was what I liked and it made me feel safe, and I loved that when I went to school, there was no other swimmer that I knew of. This sounds so bad, but I wasn’t. I was the most academic and I loved having something that I was better at than everyone else.

“If you had asked me 18 years ago, my dream was always to go to the Olympics and win an Olympic gold medal, and it still is now.”

The Welshman achieved the first part of that dream in 2021, although as every Olympian in Tokyo found out, the preparation was not easy. As the Covid pandemic caused the Games to be delayed by a year, Jervis had to adapt his training.

“They were probably the most stressful months of my entire life,” admits Jervis.

“The pools had closed, I had moved into my parents’ house and was using the spin bike in the garage, and then when things settled down I was working out in a lake. I don’t know how everyone did it, but you just do, and if you have a goal, you will find a way to achieve it.

“I remember standing in Tokyo, ready to go, listening to them welcome the athletes to the Olympic 1500m freestyle final. My whole life had been built around that exact moment, and I remember thinking about just taking it in.

“With an Olympiad, you never know if it’s going to happen again, and I remember everything about it.”

“I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay,’ I was basically slamming the words”

Until today, that has been the Jervis the world knew: a proud Welshman, Olympian and one of Britain’s top swimming stars.

Now he’s ready to talk about the fact that he’s also gay.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known that,” says Jervis.

“It was something in the back of my mind that was bothering me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved, but about three years ago I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, it was affecting me as a human being. It sounds pretty drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yes, I was smiling, but something was missing to make me happy.”

And so, over a long period of time, Jervis began to tell those close to him about his sexuality. As he himself says, at the age of 24 he finally began to be who he was. He confided in a counselor he’d known for years, and later became best friends with him, while they watched TV on the couch.

“At the time, he had never said the words out loud to me,” admits Jervis, now 26.

“I told him, ‘I think I’m gay.’ She couldn’t even say, ‘I’m gay. It was still…he couldn’t tell, he was basically slamming the words.

“I was pretty shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all the good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is that I’m not going to change as a person.”

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. Only now you know a little more about me.”

‘I want to be that person for someone’

Dan Jervis
Jervis is set to compete in the 400m and 1500m freestyle for Wales in Birmingham

It has been the stories of previous guests on the BBC’s LGBT sports podcast that have, in part, inspired Jervis to speak publicly about his sexuality.

“Michael Gunning is a swimmer and an absolute legend, and he told me I should go to this show. I also messaged hammer thrower Osian Jones about it,” says Jervis.

“I also heard Mark Foster say on his podcast that he wanted to add his weight to make people’s lives better, and I feel that too. When I was younger swimming, I didn’t know any outside swimmers, so not having someone to I could look at him being like me. I want to be that person for someone.”

It’s not just in the sports world that Jervis hopes he can 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 a Christian and gay at the same time, and I was sitting there knowing him.” may be because I am!”

And so, in many ways, Jervis’s story is about appropriating the different parts of what makes him who he is – his Welshness, his faith, his sexuality, his sporting success – and showing that none of those things are 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 was like, ‘Just be you.’

“You know, we’re right before the Commonwealth Games and there will be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m just like them and that I’m proud of who I am.

“And for so long, I hated who I was, and you see it all the time, the people who die for this. They hate themselves so much that they are taking their own lives.

“So if I can be someone that people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re just like me,’ then that’s good.”

Dan Jervis spoke exclusively to the BBC LGBT Sport Podcast and BBC Wales Sport. You can listen to the full conversation on BBC Sounds and see more on BBC Wales Today.

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