As assistant head coach at Lake Forest Swim Club for 27 years, Michael Lawrence has coached dozens of champion swimmers.
Upon first glance, his most famous student, Lake , was nothing special.
“He was a little awkward, a little clumsy and didn’t have control over his limbs,” said Lawrence, recalling his first encounter with the 8-year-old Grevers.
It didn’t take long before Lawrence realized Grevers was different. He was taller than most his age — five feet — while possessing another trait not God-given.
“Over time, watching him in the water, he was able to take simple instruction and move better in the water,” said Lawrence. “He didn’t need really fancy book language. I would just say 'move your hand and see if it makes you go faster' and he would do it.”
And do it over and over and over again. To the point where at 10, Grevers set his first national record in the 50 backstroke. By the time he entered high school in 1999, he had broken the national record in his age group in the 200 backstroke.
Strength and Power Develop
The awkward clumsiness was replaced by strength and power, as Grevers’ performance in the pool was a direct reflection of a statuesque physique (6'-8''), rabid work ethic and cool demeanor.
“Pretty soon he was driving himself. At every meet he was the best swimmer,” said Lawrence of Grevers, who led Lake Forest High School to a 2003 state championship. "Everyone around him constantly made a big deal about it and him not making a big deal out of it.
"He wasn’t being pushed. He found internal motivation."
Born into a family of swimmers—his mother, Anja, swam in Europe and both sister Carolyn and brother Andy competed for Lake Forest Swim Club and now coach — Grevers’ journey to the 2012 Olympics began in a backyard pool of the family home in Gurnee as a toddler.
By 2000, at the age of 15, he was competing in the Olympic Trials, one of the youngest to do so. A freshman at Northwestern University in 2004, he just missed making the Games. In 2008, he not only competed, but he won a silver medal in the 100 backstroke. He also won a gold medal as part of the 4x100 freestyle and medley relay.
Grevers Beat the Odds in 2008
In a sport such as swimming, where an athlete’s fiercest opponents are the water and their own mind, Grevers accomplishments at the Beijing Olympics were long on odds, even for those who knew him the longest.
“Only two percent make the Olympic trials cut,” said Cindy Dell, one of Grevers’s instructors at LFSC and now Lake Forest High School head boys’ swimming coach. “It’s almost better odds you get struck by lightning twice.”
Determined not to make 2008 his legacy, Grevers set out a path to significance for this year’s London Games, which called for a more balanced approach to training.
“He’s been on a roller coaster ride. What’s the minimum to race and have fun and be focused and serious? Both ends haven’t worked out for him,” Carolyn Grevers, Lake Forest High School head girl’s coach, said. “(He’s found) the middle ground where he’s training but not killing himself over it. Now he loves what he’s doing and is really happy, which is key.”
Finding the love of your life outside of swimming is also key. Earlier this year, Grevers got engaged to fellow swimmer Annie Chandler. She’ll be alongside his family in London when he competes in the 100 back, 400 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay.
An individual Olympic gold would not only be the first for Grevers, but for the coaches who first spotted the gangly youngster and helped mentor him into a once-in-a-lifetime champion.
“(For) coaches in any sport you are preparing them to maximize physical maturity,” Lawrence said. “He’s at a place, a more mature person and athlete, where he can be at the top of those guys.”
“There will be a traveling party,” Carolyn Grevers said. We didn’t make it to Beijing, so we were determined to make it out there (for London Games). To make it again is a dream. To make it a reality, we all hope and wish for it when it happens.”
Grevers is one of four North Shore athletes heading to the Olympics. Friday Patch will watch the performances of Grevers, , and live.