At a glance, Chris Mears is the picture of health: Youthful, fit, and athletic. But the 12-inch scar running from his chest to his navel tells a traumatic story. The Reading-born 23-year-old pro diver had a near-death experience seven years ago when he ruptured his spleen, with doctors giving him a 5% chance of survival. This year, we saw Mears breakdown in tears at the Rio Summer Olympics following his victory in the men’s synchronized three-metres springboard final with his diving partner Jack Laugher. It is Britain’s first Olympic gold in diving, and nothing short of incredible considering Mears darkest hours in a now distant past. So what do you do after winning an Olympic gold medal—after cheating death? Set your eyes on gold of a different kind, naturally. It’s lesser known that Mears is also an emerging DJ/producer. Whether he has what it takes to make it in music remains to be seen, but he has surely earned some me time to explore it.
F: Are you still processing the Olympics? Was that whole experience really mental?
CM:It still doesn’t feel that real. The Olympics is a big deal, obviously. I knew that if I was going to make an impact anywhere, it was going to be at Rio.
When did you start to see it in a professional context—as a life pursuit?
CM: I don’t think it was until I was 16. Before then, I was just going through the motions and kept doing it because it was pretty fun. I did take it seriously and compete on a high level, but I didn’t really think about the Olympics. After the surgery, I had a different outlook on what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there. I went through a bit of a midlife crisis, if you like. What I now wanted to do was to make it at the Olympics, so I kind of focused everything towards that. I quit school and focused on diving full-time.
F: What happens to a person when doctors tell them they have a 5% chance of living?
CM: I have broken memories of it. On the whole, I had no idea what was really going on. It was only afterwards we as a family sat down to talk about it. I saw the vitals—levels of white blood cells and platelets—and the digits were absolutely crazy compared to what they should be. It was pretty awesome, actually. [Laughs] It was pretty cool afterwards. You get a totally different outlook on life. Before that, I thought I knew pain. I thought I knew myself as a driven person. But I realized I didn’t, and had so much more to give. When I trained, I wasn’t training harder. I would mess around and skip back two sizes. I wouldn’t finish my workouts in the pool. I didn’t take a protein shake when I finished training. There were so many holes in what I was doing. The experience taught me to be more professional, and I had to be because losing a spleen means that you’re very susceptible to illness. In the first year, I would get ill every single month, mostly because I was pushing my body to its limit. If there were viruses to be caught, I would catch them.
F: Is there a day that goes by where you don’t think about the near-death experience?
CM: It’s very much in the past. I’ve taken what I need to take from it. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from it, but I rarely think about it. It was quite emotional at the time for my family, my closest friends and me, but I kind of look back at it as a cool story. It’s nothing more than that. I’m not sad about it anymore. It’s just what happened.
F: How did you get into EDM and House music in particular?
CM: I’ve been doing that since two-and-a-half or three years ago when I got my Mac. I got introduced to Logic. I’d make a track and be really happy with it, but then realize it wasn’t very good. It was about building and building. It takes a long time and a lot of perseverance. Again, I think my mentality lends itself to that kind of thing because I can just lock myself in a room for two days and work on stuff, and I’ll happily do that. I feel really refreshed coming out of it. It’s been a good outlet for my sport as well. Although I do want to take it seriously and release a lot of tracks in the future, I’m sitting on a lot of music that I’m really passionate about right now that’s just readying to get out there.
F: Someone told me that you have a funny airport story involving your medal.
CM: I was coming out to L.A. and I was really tired going through the airport. I was going through security and the medal was in a box—they give you this really cool box to keep your medal in—and that was in my backpack. It goes through the scanner and the security dude’s like, “There’s something in this bag that’s not right.” I was like, “Oh god… I know what this is.” So he pulls out the box, opens it and starts shouting, “Everybody! We have Olympic gold medalist Chris Mears in the airport!” Everyone in the immediate area erupted into applause. It’s that moment when you’re at a birthday meal and everyone starts singing “Happy Birthday” at you. You feel really uncomfortable.
F: You have quite a big following in the LGBT community. How did that come about?
CM: They were like, “Do you want to do a Gay Times cover naked?” and I was like, “Yeah, alright.” [Laughs] I was kind of interested in what that would be like. I like going outside my comfort zone because I want to grow. I want to become a better person. It was something I never explored before, even just doing a photoshoot. I threw myself into the deep end. I actually really enjoyed the experience. I guess on the back of that I had more opportunities to do similar things for different magazines, in fashion, and in music. It opened up a lot of doors. I’m happy to be a part of that scene. As people might know from my social media, that stuff just goes hand-in-hand. I’m absolutely all for people in sport, both men and women, being open and free in who they are because I’m totally free in who I am. I’d hate to feel like I couldn’t be who I am. I think that would be tragic.
F: Is there an Olympian that you admire? What would you want to ask them?
CM: Michael Phelps. I know that’s such a basic answer, but he’s insane. I want to look into his brain and see what’s going on because it’s not normal. Phelps has natural talent and a competition mindset that’s second to none. I’d like to know how he gets into his zone and what he does. What makes him tick? That’d be really interesting. It’s really obvious to say Phelps, I know. Some people might say Usain Bolt, but I think he’s the coolest Olympian. Bolt is definitely the coolest one. Phelps is the most talented Olympian ever, I think. He’s one of the most amazing human beings to have ever lived.
What Is your FAULT?
CM: I can’t pretend to be engaged in something when I’m not. I’m really honest and really transparent. I don’t hide my feelings well. I’m transparent to a FAULT, let’s say.