For Matt Grevers, a Lake Forest native who has quickly become one of the world’s best swimmers, the first career moment arrived early. Grevers had just seen the movie Peter Pan when the two-year-old informed his mother that he wanted to fly. "My mom told me that I could fly off the diving board," he says. "But she said I had to learn to swim first."

And learn he did. Grevers set a national backstroke record as a ten-year-old, and his storybook Lake Forest High School career culminated in 2003, Grevers’s senior season, when the school took its first state title. At Northwestern University, the six-foot seven-inch Grevers was the Big Ten freshman of the year and has twice been named outstanding swimmer at the conference’s annual championship meet.

Still, Grevers, now 20, didn’t officially hit the big time until recently. Last March, he pulled off an upset at the NCAA Championships, the Super Bowl of amateur swimming, by winning the 100-yard backstroke, barely outtouching Florida’s Ryan Lochte, an Olympic double medalist who hadn’t lost that race all season. With that win Grevers became Northwestern’s first men’s national swim champ since 1958, and also picked up top ten finishes in two freestyle races. A month later, at a qualifying meet for the upcoming world championships, Grevers posted the third-fastest 100-meter backstroke in the world—a 54.24-second time that would have won silver at the 2004 Olympics.

Grevers’s next challenge, the World University Games in Izmir, Turkey, begins August 11th. Then it’s back to school in Evanston for his junior year and training to defend his NCAA title. You can bet that Eddie Reese, head coach of the 2004 men’s Olympic swimming team, will be keeping in touch. "He’s at the head of his class right now," Reese says.

Grevers admits that he doesn’t love to practice. "I’m certainly not the workhorse on the team," he says. "What I swim for is the race." His coach, Northwestern’s Bob Groseth, says Grevers hasn’t yet reached his full potential. "He’s maybe even three years away from being at his physical peak," he says. By those calculations, Grevers should reach top form around 2008, just in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing.