Cal welcomes elite athletes back to school

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Inside Bay Area: Cal welcomes elite athletes back to school

Fame and fortune is not all that lures young athletes away from their degrees.

Swimmer Anthony Ervin, who won gold and silver medals at the 2000 Olympics while a UC Berkeley student, gave up both swimming and school in 2003 to play rock music in New York. He got tattooed and began smoking.

"I just knew that I wasn't ready" to finish school, he said on the Berkeley campus, to which he returned in 2008. "There was no thirst that I needed to quench in the academic sphere. I just needed to go live life for a while."

After returning to Cal, Ervin quit smoking, started swimming again and, with Van Rheenen's help, finished his bachelor's degree in English. The 30-year-old Southern California native is working on a master's degree and is among the favorites to make the U.S. team for this year's Olympics in London.

"Maybe you should be a few years older to truly appreciate what a university has to offer," Ervin said.