By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, February 2, 2018
Strange as it may seem, in some ways Matt Grevers not making the 2016 Olympic Team – despite strong expectations from him and many others – prolonged his swimming career.
The year prior to Trials, Grevers wasn’t enjoying racing like he had in the past. He still loved the sport and training, and everything afforded by a successful professional career, but he had lost his love for racing.
“It was a strange feeling for me unlike anything I’d experienced before because racing was always something I loved and was respected for,” he said. “But I felt off. When I would step behind or on the blocks to race, my passion just wasn’t where it usually was. I was racing for the paycheck and not for the love of the sport.”
A strong favorite at Trials to make the U.S. team and defend the 100 backstroke gold medal he won in London in 2012, Grevers’ third Omaha experience ended in severe disappointment and frustration when he finished third and off the team headed to Rio.
He said he walked away confounded by what transpired in the Trials pool, but after a few days of contemplation and introspection, he found a silver lining followed by a tremendous opportunity to help counsel and guide the future of USA Swimming.
“Because I finished third and agreed to be an alternate for the Olympic Team should I be needed, I had to keep swimming and training at top levels just as I would if I were on the team,” he said.
“Those practices after Trials were the fastest of my career and really motivated me. It also showed me how much I still loved the sport. I knew I still had more juice left.”
Not long after that, he and Caitlin Leverenz – who also finished third in the 200 individual medley and missed making the team – were asked to act as mentors for the U.S. Junior National team in Hawaii.
Grevers said being around so much energy and optimism reignited his love for the sport – reminding him of the purity of the sport and returned him to his swimming roots.
“Spending time with young swimmers not concerned about keeping sponsors or making a living in the sport returned me to my childhood mindset about swimming,” he said. “In 2016, I was so concerned about swimming fast enough to earn spots on teams to support my family that I think I lost my true spirit for the sport. Being there brought all of the reasons I love swimming back to me.”
One more very important happy occurrence in his life arrived near the end of 2016 that also gave Grevers a different perspective about life and swimming.
He and wife, Annie (Chandler), a former National Team swimmer herself, welcomed daughter Skylar into their lives in November 2016, and to say she’s changed their world for the better is an understatement of great proportion.
“When I have a bad practice or a meet that doesn’t go as I hope, I know I have Skylar and Annie to come home to and that gives my life new meaning and definitely different perspective,” said Grevers, who has won 35 medals (16 gold) at international meets in his career.
“Before Skylar, I was so focused on one thing – swimming – that I had no real perspective about what else could be important. Now I get to go home and be the best dad no matter what happens in the pool.”
Grevers said it wasn’t long after Skylar’s arrival that he started to see the return of his love for racing despite juggling the responsibilities (and lack of sleep) from having a new baby.
At the TYR Pro Swim Series in Austin in January 2017, he competed knowing he didn’t have a lot on the line but wanted to see where he was in terms of time.
He swam fast enough to win the 100 back, and he hasn’t lost in this event against U.S. competitors ever since. He won the event last summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and went on to win silver at World Championships in Budapest. He also won two golds in relays (400 medley and 400 mixed medley) and a bronze in the 50 back.
“(In Austin), I just went to enjoy the experience; I had that adrenalin rush of old back and I was laser focused on my event,” he said. “I love that endorphin rush I get from competing again. It makes me happy, and I’m excited to race again.
“I honestly think maybe missing the Olympic team in 2016 – as disappointing as it was – might have been good for me. Prior to Trials, I was considering stepping away from swimming after the Olympics, but instead, it gave me new reasons to keep swimming.”
And having some younger guns in the sport pushing Grevers – who will be 33 in March – to strive for faster times and smarter training has also renewed his zest for swimming.
But he realistically knows that if he doesn’t swim well this summer at Phillips 66 Nationals – where the 2018 Pan Pacific and 2019 World Championship teams will be decided – going for Tokyo in 2020 without the financial support of USA Swimming and his sponsors would be nearly impossible.
For the time being, however, he’s still looking forward to those next Olympic Trials and a spot on his third Olympic team.
“I’m at peace now with my swimming and the responsibilities that go with swimming professionally, and that’s helping me when I train and race,” said Grevers, who is looking at a career in residential and commercial real estate and possibly coaching at some level when he’s done with swimming – whenever that might be.
“I know now that I don’t have to swim anymore unless I absolutely want to – and right now, I do. As for this year and beyond, I’m feeling that excitement again – crackling with energy – and I’m loving swimming as well as being a dad and husband.”