09/21/2012 01:29 pm ET

Matt Grevers Talks Winning Gold, Proposing To His Girlfriend, And His Triumphant Return To Chicago

By Steffie Drucker

Steffie is a junior at Niles North High School. She is a student reporter for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

When you think of the diet and lifestyle of an Olympic athlete, you don’t usually imagine them eating three sausage-and-egg McGriddles and a milkshake, right? Well, that’s exactly what Lake Forest High School graduate and gold medalist Matt Grevers ate to celebrate his big win in the 100-meter backstroke at the London Olympics this summer.

He admits, though, that he regretted it. “It felt horrible,” he said. “I got really sick!”

Grevers looked just fine during an autograph event at the Chalet in Wilmette on Sept. 6. Teen swimmers and fans from all around, including students from Niles North, New Trier and Loyola, came to shake his hand, hold his medal and snag an autograph.

After meeting and greeting a long line of fans and well-wishers, Grevers sat down with The Mash and talked about everything from his upcoming wedding plans (April 6 in San Antonio) to him competing in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Congratulations on winning your first individual gold medal in London. How did that feel?

It was awesome and something I’d thought about doing since right after Beijing. I guess after Aaron Peirsol retired, it really became a big possibility and then to go faster than (he did) in Beijing meant that it wasn’t just because he retired. ... It’s such a great opportunity to represent your country and win for your country. ... When you get to see your flag in the No. 1 spot and then hear your national anthem being played, there’s something very special about that that I wasn’t prepared for and it brought tears to my eyes.

How did that feeling compare to proposing to your fiance, Annie Chandler, at the Missouri Grand Prix earlier this year, and how did you feel when your proposal went viral on YouTube?

The viral part I was a little nervous about at first. I wasn’t trying to promote us or exploit the situation; I just wanted to record it for Annie’s parents. Then we started getting feedback and it was all positive: People said, “It made my day” or “It brought tears to my eyes,” and to hear that feedback and know we impacted someone in a positive way meant a lot to us. But winning the gold was great too.

What was more nerve-wracking: competing at the Olympics or proposing?

I’ve been asked that a few times and it changes; it’s such a tie. It’s different nerves. With the Olympics I’m nervous because I’m representing my country and it’s my responsibility to win and do the best I can do. With Annie it’s, “What can go wrong? Will the ring not fit? Will she be OK with the way I’m doing this?”

Annie’s also a swimmer. Do you two train together? Are you competitive?

We train together in the same group and we’re a little competitive but I think we’re more supportive. We’re really honest with each other. ... She’s not afraid to tell me, “Hey, you need to work on this.”

What lessons did you learn (from being a high school and COLLEGE athlete) that you could pass on to current high school swimmers?

Having a pattern or something you can commit to every day is important. Just knowing that you’re going to wake up, go to practice, then eat breakfast and go to class. It may seem like a lot the first week but ... by the end it’s hard not to get in that rhythm because you’re accomplishing a lot of things and feeling productive and that productivity becomes easier and easier.

We’ve all seen Michael Phelps doing his pre-race routine by listening to those Beats headphones. What do you do to get ready?

I got a pair of those Beats headphones, by the way. I was pumped!

Do you have a pump-up playlist?

For the 100 backstroke I did listen to “Some Nights” by Fun., which is just an upbeat song.

What do you think about while you’re swimming?

Mainly I think about little stroke techniques. In London, I was thinking about getting my hips rotated early since that’s something I’ve been working on all year. To get a little extra power I rotate my hips early and it’s been very effective.

Will we see you in Rio in 2016?

I’m going to try. I love swimming so much and I’ve enjoyed the sport tremendously. I’m not sick of it at all. It’s something I really have enjoyed and felt blessed to be a part of, so to go to Rio 2016 is my next goal.

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