Get to Know: Mel Egerton
Melissa Jane (Mel) Egerton is a senior at Johns Hopkins University, studying nursing. She’s also part of the swim team and went to the 2012 Olympics in London. She didn’t medal, although she hopes to perform better in Rio in 2016.
Mel was born in Alma, Michigan, the eldest of four children. Her father, an accountant, had met her mother at school in Chicago, where she was studying law. Mel’s mother runs her own practice in their hometown. Her father runs his own business from their home.
Mel has three younger sisters. Only the youngest, Olivia, is involved in swimming. Tanya and Natasha are not involved in sports, instead pursuing academic interests.
Mel has been in trouble for voicing her political opinions on multiple occasions, which some have suggested hindered her swimming career. She says she feels it’s important to be political, even if it does alienate some people.
- What’s your best subject in school?
Chemistry, actually. Most people think nurses must be really good at biology, but you have to know a lot about toxicology and pharmacology, and that’s all chemicals.
- What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Going to the Olympics this year. I didn’t medal, but it was still a pretty cool experience.
- What do you want to accomplish?
Obviously, my goal is to get back to the Olympics and actually medal this time! I’m also looking forward to graduation, to actually getting into my career and helping people.
- What’s your favorite book?
Pride and Prejudice. I love it.
- You’re going out on a date. What are you doing?
Probably dinner and a movie. I’m a hopeless romantic, so that kind of traditional date appeals to me.
- What’s your go-to comfort meal?
My mom’s chicken soup. She makes it from scratch. I just can’t get anything like it here.
- What’s the hardest part of your job?
Honestly? I find school a lot more stressful. I did a co-op placement last semester, and it was brutal. I was so tired and stressed the whole time. Like, if you screw up on a job, no big deal, right? But in nursing, in medicine, that’s someone’s life you’re playing with. You can’t screw it up. So being a student, being a novice and learning all this stuff, it’s really stressful, because if you make a mistake, it’s not just oh, an x on the paper—it could be someone’s future.
- Why did you pick swimming over other sports?
There’s a lot of barriers for black people in swimming, even now. But I got in the water and I just loved it, and then, when I found out about those barriers, about how people used to treat us, y’know, like, drain the pool, that kind of crap, it really pushed me to go further. I know I’m not the first, but I still think we need more representation, we need to show people we’re good at all sports, not just running or football or basketball or whatever. We have so much potential, and I want to be an inspiration for girls like me.
- Your best friend needs help. What do you do?
I’m the girl with the shovel saying, “Okay, where are we burying the body?” I’d do anything for my friends, I don’t want them hurt.
- What’s something most people don’t realize about you?
I guess how political I am. I know a lot of people are told to just keep their mouths shut, especially in sports. You don’t wanna tick anyone off, so you know, we kind of get paraded out there and people are like look, no politics here, perfectly neutral! Yay America! But it’s politics—a lot of politics—in every sport. So you have to be political, you have to be savvy about it.
I have my opinions, but it’s not like people often ask me for them. I’m not supposed to have them, I guess. My agent gets mad at me a lot, but you know. I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
When I made the Olympic team, my mom gave me one of my grandma’s rings. She said she wanted me to have it, told my mom to give it to me when I accomplished something really big. I guess that was big enough and—yeah, I like to think I made Grandma proud.
- If you could meet one person on the planet, who would it be?
Maya Angelou. She is such an inspiration to me.
- What’s your favorite movie?
The Notebook. I mean, who doesn’t love that movie?
- TV show?
Oh, gosh, Orange Is the New Black, probably.
- What do you do in your spare time?
I volunteer at the local hospital on weekends, after practice. Aside from that, I don’t really have a lot of spare time, so it’s really just trying to eat healthy and get enough sleep. It can be so hard to do when you’re trying to manage school and swimming and everything else.
- If you could take up a new hobby, what would it be?
My grandma was amazing at crochet. I’d love to learn it.
- You broke up with your s/o. What are you listening to?
I probably dumped them, so probably something with really empowering lyrics—maybe some Aretha, some TLC, maybe some rap, maybe a little bit of Beyonce’s early stuff mixed in there for fun.
- What’s one thing you couldn’t live without?
My hair straightener. I get a lot of flak for it, but you try putting natural hair under your swim cap. I love the look, but I feel like I’d have to chop off all my hair. I do leave it when I can—y’know, I don’t wanna totally fry my hair—but most days, it’s just not practical.
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would love to live in London. It was just such an amazing atmosphere. There’s so much history there, just castles and stuff. And I love British accents and British boys are pretty cute too.
- Do you have any pets?
I have a goldfish, which is probably best for me. I’m not super-responsible right at this stage in my life, so if I had something that was a big responsibility, like a cat or dog, I’d probably kill it. The goldfish gets along okay, though.
Get to know Mel better in Going Under, the first book in the Something in the Water series.