Olympic gold medalist and recent Northwestern grad Matt Grevers is literally living the dream. “I swim, I hang out with all the college people, I get all the perks and no homework,” he said.
Grevers, who won the silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the Beijing Olympics and two gold medals in the preliminary heats of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and 4×100-meter medley relay, returned to campus Friday as the grand marshal of the Homecoming parade. Grevers was also spotted at the Homecoming football game and in Bobb-McCulloch, visiting his old room.
North by Northwestern spoke to Grevers about his days as a Phi Delt, getting his car booted after swim practices and his “life changing” experiences in Beijing.
How does it feel to be back at Northwestern?
It’s awesome, a lot of support. I didn’t realize how many people remembered me, but when I came back, even walking here, two minutes ago, I got stopped by a few cars saying “Hey Matt, congratulations!” And that means so much to me. I’m a swimmer, we don’t get that many kudos throughout our careers, so actually getting acknowledged for what we’ve done is something new and it feels great.
Beijing was pretty exciting, so…
Yeah, it was awesome. The experience, life changing. I came back and I don’t want to say I got a bigger head because I don’t feel like that’s true, but it’s definitely a different lifestyle. I go to a grocery store and some people recognize me. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to…
Does Homecoming bring back any favorite memories from your college days? You were a Phi Delt… Did you ever participate with your brothers?
Yeah, I was. I usually had my hard workouts Saturday morning, all the alumni would come into town and I got to see all the seniors that just graduated. I would sit in the hot tub with a couple of swim guys where we watched all the alumni sit on the beach out there by SPAC, just hanging out. It was just awesome meeting those guys. That’s what Homecoming is about, just renewing those old friendships. It’s great coming back here and being able to do that. Seeing the Phi Delts and guys from other fraternities because we’re all friends. My coaches, my teammates. It’s incredible. Obviously, the football game is important but it’s just being around those people is really where satisfaction of Homecoming comes from.
I’m sure you still have the Olympics on your mind… Did Northwestern ever come up at any time during your time in Beijing?
Absolutely, Northwestern has always been on my mind in swimming. My coach Bob Groseth supported me when I was at the Olympics, would write me e-mails because he knows I would get nervous and maybe have some doubts. There’s always doubts in your head when there’s a lot on the line. He’s always been great at motivating me. And so are my teammates. Mike Alexandrov, who I was on the team with for all four years, was out there with me swimming for Bulgaria. And it was awesome to have him there and that support.
What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed here on campus since you left?
I actually went to the dorms yesterday and there were no changes. I lived on Bobb first floor when I was a freshman. That is exactly the same. I knocked on my old room, room 104, and the guy was like, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” “Oh nothing, just wanted to see the old room.”
I recently did an article for NBN’s quarterly magazine on the five people I’d like to see be president of Northwestern, and you were on my list. If you were president, what would you change about Northwestern?
That’s a tough question. Um. Parking. I would add a couple levels of parking for places because there’s never any parking. I had issues, I got booted all the time, even when I had a pass. For some reason, they would boot me. When I had practice, I’d come outside and see the boot. I’d spend the next four hours on the phone arguing with people. So there’s a bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t say I can ask for too much more, both athletic and academic programs here have proven themselves to be incredible.
So what’s next for you? Are you going to keep training? Are we going to see you at the next Olympics?
Yeah, swimming isn’t a lucrative sport but enough to get by, so that’s what I’m going to do. I literally am living the dream. I live with two sophomores and a junior in Arizona. So it’s like I’m in college still, I just don’t have classes. I swim, I hang out with all the college people, I get all the perks and no homework.
How many hours a day would you say you spend on training?
In the heart of the season when that’s all we do, probably six or seven hours a day. Sometimes I go in and do extra stuff like filming and you can push it to 10 if you really want to. But that’s too much. I don’t think it’s healthy to do a sport that much.
What’s harder? Swimming in the Olympics or being a student at Northwestern?
Swimming in the Olympics. The night before the finals race into the 100-meter backstroke, I couldn’t fall asleep. I took two Ambien and I still was like, “I’m going to screw this up.” It was a great feeling. The anxiety wasn’t all negative. It was a lot of excitement. If you screw up, a lot of people get upset with you.
So what is the real Michael Phelps like?
He’s great. A very focused guy which some people give him crap for. But he needs to be focused to do what he does. I actually went to Vegas with him about a month ago, rode his coattails all weekend. He is a superstar. The guy is recognized everywhere he goes. And I’m just in his shadows. It was incredible, the lifestyle of swimmers have changed and what he has accomplished. I owe him a lot. For swimming in general, he’s made it a little more known and sponsors now are coming out to the rest of us, not to just him.
How long have you two been friends?
I’ve known Michael since I was 14, through swim meets. There was a meet in Michigan and my coach told me “This kid is going to be really good.” And I was like, “What? I’m the best 14-year-old kid out here. What are you talking about?” And he ended up whooping my butt. From then, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed me that much, but we bow back and forth. I beat him in some backstrokes and he beats me in everything else.
Do you guys ever just chill or hang out?
I told President Bienen this, too: We did a beer pong game in Vegas, threw $100 on the table, winner gets it, and I ended up smoking him. So there was that friendly competition.
It was great because he still had his focused face where he goes… (makes face) every shot and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Best piece of advice you can give to Northwestern students about life, love, college, anything.
Put passion into what you’re doing. If you do that, you’ll find the extremes of everything. It’s exciting if you put passion not just into schoolwork, but your friends, sports, any extracurriculars. If you get passionate about it, life is just more rich and exciting.
Correction, Oct. 20, 2008, 4:28 p.m. The original version of this article misstated Matt Grevers’ former teammates last name. It is Alexandrov, not Alexander.