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

Dan Jervis
Dan Jervis has won 1500m freestyle swimming medals for Wales at the past two Commonwealth Games
Hosts: Birmingham Dates: 28 July-8 August
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“It took 24 years to be who I was, but now I’m happy. I look in the mirror and I like who I am.”

A broad grin spreads across Dan Jervis’ face as he says those words.

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

The self-described ‘Valley boy’ will go into 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 events in the pool – with Jervis now ready to talk publicly for the first time about the fact he is gay.

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

‘The pools had shut – I was training for the Olympics in a lake’

Dan Jervis, Jack McLoughlin, Mack Horton
Jervis took Commonwealth Games silver in 2018, with Australia winning gold through Jack McLoughlin and bronze thanks to Mack Horton

In the small village of Resolven where Jervis grew up, rugby rules.

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 10m without armbands when I was one,” Jervis laughs.

“Swimming was my interest. It was the thing I’d gelled to and felt safe in, and I loved that when I went to school, there weren’t any other swimmers I knew of. This sounds so bad, but I wasn’t the most academic and I loved having something that I was better at than the others.

“If you’d 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 all the Olympians in Tokyo found, preparation wasn’t easy. As the Covid pandemic caused the Games to be delayed for a year, Jervis had to adapt his training.

“It was probably the most stressful few months of my entire life,” Jervis admits.

“The pools had shut, I’d moved home to my parents and was using the spin bike in the garage – and then when things eased, I was training in a lake. I don’t know how everyone did it, but you just do, and if you’ve got a goal, you’ll find a way to get to it.

“I remember standing in Tokyo, ready to walk out, hearing them welcoming the athletes for the Olympic 1500m freestyle final. My whole life had built towards that exact moment, and I remember thinking to just take it in.

“With an Olympics, you never know if it’ll happen again, and I remember everything about it.”

‘I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ – I was basically punching the words out’

Until today, that’s been 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 the fact he’s gay as well.

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

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

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

And so, over a long period of time, Jervis began telling those closest to him about his sexuality. As he says himself. at the age of 24 he finally started to be who he was. He confided in a counsellor who he’d known for years – and then it was his best friend, as they watched TV on the sofa.

“At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself,” Jervis, now 26, admits.

“I said to her, ‘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 the words out.

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

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

‘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’s been the stories of previous guests on the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast that have, in part, inspired Jervis to talk publicly about his sexuality.

“Michael Gunning is a swimmer and an absolute legend, and he said I should come on to this show. I messaged hammer thrower Osian Jones about it as well,” Jervis says.

“I also heard Mark Foster say on your podcast that he wanted to add his weight to making people’s lives better, and I feel that as well. When I was younger in swimming, I wasn’t aware of any out swimmers so didn’t have anyone I could look to who was like me. I want to be that person for someone.”

It’s not just in the world of sport where Jervis is hoping he can be that role model.

“I’m a devout Christian,” the Welshman says.

“I love God, and out of all the things in my life my faith is what I’m most proud of. And there is this thing where people say you can’t be Christian and gay together, and I was sitting there knowing you can be because I am!”

And so, in many ways, Jervis’ story is about owning 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 thought: ‘Just be you.’

“You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m 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, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

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

Dan Jervis was speaking exclusively to the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast and BBC Wales Sport. You can hear the full conversation on BBC Sounds, and see more on BBC Wales Today.

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