It’s not very often you get close enough to touch an Olympic Gold Medalist.
Tuesday night at ’s Commons area, hundreds of Lake Foresters, many of whom children and their parents, had just that opportunity.
Just weeks after he gripped a worldwide audience of millions with his 100-meter backstroke gold medal performance in London, Matt Grevers looked relaxed and comfortable in front of an adoring, local audience of a few hundred.
Flanked by his fiancee, Annie Chandler, mother, Anja and father Ed, Grevers returned to the city where he first piled up records on the junior swimming circuit. In 2003, the Grevers-led Scouts won their only state high school swimming championship.
After Mayor James J. Cowhey, Jr. handed Grevers a plaque officially declaring Tuesday “Matt Grevers Day” in Lake Forest, Grevers thanked the community for giving him the push he needed to be an Olympic champion.
“Without all of you I couldn’t have done it,” said Grevers, standing at a podium while dozens of cameras flashed. “It’s a lot easier to to something when there’s more people backing you. This community has backed me more than any can back an individual.”
For Lake Forest High School swimmers Michael Van Antwerp, 16, and Daniel Smith, 15, watching a local athlete like Grevers win the gold was three parts thrilling, inspiring and almost unbelievable.
“He’s a great role model for swimmers around the world,” said Van Antwerp, an LFHS junior. “He almost brought the whole town there as I thought all of Lake Forest was supporting and pulling for him. To have him come here tonight is huge for the whole town.”
A native of England, Smith, a sophomore, was able to witness Grevers’ race in person.
“It was the most amazing night ever. It was so inspirational just to see someone from our school do something big,” said Smith. “Everyone was so energetic, so accepting of everyone. No one was mean about nationalities. There were just there for a good time.”
Tuesday evening had a similarly electric feeling. When Grevers finished his brief speech, he stuck around the commons, posing for pictures and signing autographs. One family who arrived early and stayed late were the Gescheidle’s of Lake Forest. Liz Gesheidle brought her son, Will, 12, and daughter Grace, 10. Both swimmers, Liz Geisheidle couldn’t pass up the opportunity to expose her children to an Olympic champion.
“We have a lot of respect for Matt. We are excited about what he’s accomplished and it's fun to cheer on a hometown hero during the Olympics,” said Geisheidle. “For swimmers, he’s a great role model.”
Will, his face beaming knowing he was about to meet Grevers, spoke how rare it is for a kid to live in the same town as an Olympic Gold Medalist.
“It was pretty cool to see someone who’s lived where I am currently living and he’s accomplished so much,” said Will Geisheidle. “It’s insane watching him swim that fast.”
While he and his sister waited in line to meet Grevers, he was asked what else he took from watching greatness achieved by someone with which he had so much in common.
“That sets a goal for me to probably go to the Olympics,” said Will Geisheidle.