Courtesy / Tim Binning
Before the knee touched the ground and the ring popped out of the box, before the proposal went viral and YouTube blew up, Annie Chandler was a teenager, standing on the edge of a dream.
On Feb. 26, 2005, she crouched on the block at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center in Austin, one point separating her Churchill Chargers from The Woodlands Highlanders for the girls’ Class 5A state title.
When the third relay leg, Caitlin Ariens, touched the wall, Chandler dove in as the star anchor, adrenaline and fierce determination propelling her through the water. Earlier in the day, she had captured gold and set the state record in the women’s 100 breaststroke. But she had never won a team championship.
Now here she was, a junior knifing through the pool, racing for an elusive title. When Chandler touched, the Chargers became champions. The girls whooped and hugged, flashed the No. 1 sign and threw coach Al Marks in the pool. The memory remains sweet, although 12 years later, details are a bit of a blur.
“I don’t remember how much we won by,” the former Churchill star said. “But I remember celebrating with my friends. It was a special experience.”
Before she married four-time Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers, Annie Chandler established herself as the most decorated female swimmer in San Antonio history. She won three state titles in the 100 breaststroke at Churchill, seven NCAA titles at the University of Arizona, and two gold medals at the World University Games. A former U.S. National Swimming Team star, she competed in two Olympic Trials.
On Saturday, Chandler-Grevers was inducted with the Class of 2017 into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame. She joined retired Spur Robert Horry, former San Antonio Sports Executive Director Susan Blackwood, former Edgewood Independent School District Interim Superintendent Sylvester Perez, and former owner of the San Antonio Racquets and original investor in the San Antonio Spurs Leo Rose.
“To be in the midst of some of the greats,” Chandler-Grevers said, “is pretty humbling.”
Her most celebrated moment, however, occurred out of the water. It happened on a medal stand at a swim meet in 2012, when her then-boyfriend, Matt Grevers, dropped to one knee and proposed, TV cameras zooming in to capture the moment. She said “yes,” and people around the world were moved.
CBS Morning News featured the proposal. Matt’s relatives saw it on the news in the Netherlands. “It was shown all over the world,” said Matt, 31. “More than 6 million people saw it on the YouTube channel before the original was taken down.”
Other versions of the proposal remain, and have generated more than 1 million views on YouTube.
“It was a little surreal,” said Chandler-Grevers, 29. “I didn’t know how to feel about it at first. The main comment I got was it was great to see good news in the news. I ended up getting a lot of joy from other people.”
Annie and Matt met on the pool deck at the University of Arizona in 2008. Before he arrived, she remembers the buzz: a star swimmer from Northwestern was coming to serve as a volunteer coach. “I looked at my teammates and said, ‘Who is Matt Grevers and why are we supposed to know his name?'” she recalled. “After a little research, I learned he was a very accomplished NCAA athlete.”
Theirs became a beautiful, yet challenging relationship – two people falling in love, the NCAA champion from Northwestern trying to coach the NCAA champion from Arizona, the former not always listening to the latter.
“I wasn’t a very coachable athlete,” Annie said.
“She would get pretty mad,” Matt said. “There would be a scowl on her face when I tried to adjust her stroke.”
They dated for 4 years. In February 2012, Matt hatched a plan. He would propose to Annie after she won her specialty event, the 100 breaststroke, at the Missouri Grand Prix. His parents were coming in town. His brother would be there. He arranged with the meet director to give Annie her ring on the medal stand. All the details fell in place except one: Annie finished fourth.
Matt devised Plan B on the fly. He would win the men’s 100 backstroke the next day and have the meet director arrange for Annie to award the medals. Matt came through and Annie hung gold around his neck. Moments later, he dropped to one knee and Annie clasped her hand over her mouth.
The athletic gene pool in Annie’s family runs long and deep. Her father, Thomas Chandler, played linebacker in the CFL and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Her cousin, tight end Scott Chandler, played nine seasons in the NFL, most recently in 2015 with the New England Patriots.
Annie started swimming at age 7. She also played basketball and volleyball and took ballet. As peers began to devote themselves to year-round swimming, Annie, at age 10, resisted. Two years later, she joined a club swim team and, intimidated by the coach, wanted to quit. Her father offered her a Speedo swim bag if she stayed.
“So I stuck with it, got the swim bag and a whole lot more,” she said. “At 12, it’s late to start club swimming but that’s the age I went full-time. I just wasn’t ready to make the commitment earlier.”
Natural talent and hard work carried her through high school and college. At the University of Arizona, she became an 18-time All-American, majored in journalism and, despairing of the decline of newspapers, thought she’d wind up in public relations. Instead, she became a staff writer for Swimming World.
In June 2015, two years after she got married, Annie penned a first-person piece for the magazine, “4 Lessons Matt Grevers Taught Me About Swimming.”
“Ever received the advice not to coach your significant other?,” she wrote. “Yeah, there were many times I thought the common counsel had eluded Matt. He eventually grew weary of his girlfriend dodging eye contact and giving no signs of receiving his coaching. You’re not here to tell me what to do. That’s not your role, I thought. But, boy was I wrong.”
Annie retired from competitive swimming after the 2012 Olympic Trials and began searching for the next thing. She supported Matt, who continued swimming, and got married. She had her first baby, Skylar, three months ago.
Motherhood occupies much of her time these days. But writing remains an outlet, a means to serve the swimming community and share lessons. In April 2015, she wrote a thought-provoking piece: “Retiring into life after swimming.”
Life after a long, competitive swimming career can be challenging, she wrote. What do you do? How do you put success in the pool behind and embrace an uncertain future? The answer is different for everyone. Annie encouraged swimmers to “never quit, only retire,” to search for a new passion, to try the unknown.
So here she is, embarking on a great unknown – motherhood – while celebrating golden moments from the past. A little more than 10 years after graduating from Churchill, Annie Chandler-Grevers has touched down where she belongs: in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame.