In the first book of the Bible, which is named Genesis, there is a part where two of the co-stars, Abraham and Sarah, go to this vulgar place that had a whole lot of people with sinful desires. It was called Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had a righteous nephew, thank goodness, who was named Lot and, when he tried to protect some angels who were with him from some particularly evil people, the Sodomites tried to knock down Lot’s door and hurt him and his angels in a really fearsome way.
Wham! The angels immediately blinded the evil sickos and told Lot and his family to get out of town, that fire and brimstone was coming and, for goodness sake, don’t look back at the carnage on the way out.
Sure enough, the wrath of God Almighty erased Sodom and Gomorrah like a grammar school chalk board but Lot’s wife, in easily the dumbest move since Eve offered Adam a bite of fruit, looked back and – KA-wham! – she was turned into a stone-cold pillar of salt.
Now there are a lot of morals to the story and I’ve sat through some pretty boring versions. But Lot’s wife got brought up in Omaha this week and, brother, the way it happened hit my hot button. I get stirred up by certain stories I read and at the ongoing Olympic trials, there just appeared an old face.
It’s been 12 years since Anthony Ervin, who was 19 at the time, won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle in Sydney, Australia. You don’t remember it because after he took a gold in Japan the next year he burned out, Michael Phelps soon won those six golds in Athens, and – poof – the last anybody heard Ervin was wearing a lot of tattoos, picking a guitar and being pretty anonymous as a college dropout in a beat-down neighborhood of Brooklyn.
But wait! There is something about a champion – so help me God – that never goes out. Personally I don’t believe in burnout. I know the lights can get dim for just about any of us but Anthony Ervin never did burn out. We found that out in 2004, just after the horrendous tsunami in the Indian Ocean because, with very little fanfare, there appeared a 2000 Olympic gold medal for bid on eBay. It brought $17,000 and the “seller” – Anthony Ervin – sent every penny to the tsunami relief effort.
Want another clue? An old teammate at Cal, Lars Merseburg, was pounding drums with this rock band and got Anthony to play a lick or two. Lars had started a learn-to-swim deal in TriBeCa for poor kids and he got the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal winner to string along there, too.
“Well, seeing the kids get committed, gradually making changes and improving, and then having fun with it … I don’t really know,” he told the New York Times. “I guess it blew on some embers that had grown really, really cold and eventually grew into a fire.”
Yeah, and the fire burned bright Thursday. He finished 11th in yesterday morning’s 100-meter qualifying with a time of 49.54 seconds and qualified for the semis that were to be held last night. He’s 31 years old. Imagine if he’d taken the road that Michael Phelps did or become a Mark Spitz?
But, no, he did it his way. He returned to Cal, getting his degree in English. And the way he looks at it, selling his Olympic medal for the tsunami relief wasn’t that big a deal. “Ah, I was somewhat of a mystic at the time. And in order to make – what’s the word I want to use? – not ‘amends’ but really kind of cleanse myself in doing something I thought would help.”
HINT: This next part is what you need to read, savor, and never forget. Anthony Ervin, age 31, was asked another question. Now that he has trained and regained his magnificent athletic ability, does he have any second thoughts, any regrets? “How do you move forward with your life if you hold onto regret? If you turn around, you’d be like Lot’s wife. You’d just be a pillar of salt. You wouldn’t grow. You’d remain stagnant,” he told USA Today, “So, no, in that sense, no regrets.“
What could have been? I don’t know,” Anthony said. “All I know is what did happen. And I feel lucky and privileged and glad to be here right now.”
Now, the best moral that I’ve ever learned in all the years at church listening to Sodom and Gomorrah, fire and brimstone, and the way we should all strive to live our lives? It just came from Anthony Ervin: Don’t be like Lot’s wife. Look back and all you’ll get is a bunch of salt.