Alan Timmerman, exclusive to Sports Illustrated

After an unnerving detour, Alex Lewis is back on the road to Athens, with a new outlook on life.

(Los Angeles)

When Jake Steward of UCLA called me and asked me to do a private interview with Alex Lewis, I was intrigued, at the very least.

Swimming's Boy Wonder had been missing from the public eye for months – his whereabouts and reasons for disappearing were secrets more closely held than the contents of Area 51. Now he was coming out, to me, about where he'd been and what he'd been doing.

I thought I'd be ready for anything.

I was wrong.

We met in a small café near the University campus. Lewis was already there, his usual meal of a salad and fruit before him. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about life, the weather and the Bruins in general, and once my meal arrived, we got down to brass tacks.

"I'm not here to put a pretty face on it, Al," he began. "I've been pretty bad off. I didn't know just who I was, or where I was, or anything for a while."

Such openness about mental illness is unheard of in the sporting world, but Alex wants everyone to know, so that maybe others who are suffering from Schizophreniform disorder, a stress-related disease often mistaken for schizophrenia, will seek help such as he received.

Alex credits the staff at Sunny Hills Rest Home, a facility just outside of Alhambra, for his quick and thorough recovery. And a certain young lady, who he's yet to identify.

"This isn't about my love life, Al. It's about my illness, my recovery, and my plans for making up for the time I've lost in preparing for Athens. I'm sure the personal stuff will come out soon, but right now, we're just enjoying spending time together without the press interrupting us."

And all over the country echoed the sound of young girls' hearts breaking.

Alex Lewis, who began swimming competitively at a very early age, has never taken a break of any length before in his athletic career. He won his first National Title at the age of…


Dawn threw Gunn's magazine on the counter. You had to be brain-dead in LA not to know the details of Alex Lewis's swimming career, and she wasn't interested enough in the article to wade through them again.

She hated the times when she relieved the receptionist. It was so boring. But it wasn't often; she shouldn't complain.

She had turned eighteen last week. The Angel gang had taken her out to dinner, bought her pretty things, and made her feel loved. It had been good for her. Even Willow and Kennedy had driven down from Sunnydale to celebrate with them.

She was almost through her night-study high school course, and would be getting her diploma in January. She had a good job, researching and running the records room at Team Angel, Inc. – formerly the law firm of Wolfram and Hart. Her life mattered.

She was at peace. That one fact was more surprising to her than any of the others.

When Xander died, she was sure her whole world would follow him to the grave. But something had happened soon afterward – she wasn't completely sure what – and she simply woke up one morning ready to go on with her life. True, she was hardly your usual carefree eighteen-year- old, but she didn't carry the burden she'd expected to shoulder along with her when she'd moved to LA from Sunnydale.

She had family and friends. She had purpose. She had her precious memories.

It was almost everything she ever wanted.

"Excuse me, Miss?"

Okay, WOW. Serious hottie at the desk. He was about her height, maybe a bit shorter, with muscular shoulders and deep, almost indigo blue eyes and dark blonde hair, cut really short. He was gorgeous. He was… She looked down at the picture on the magazine cover on the desk.

"Alex Lewis?"

"Yeah." He blushed. How adorable. Then he pulled the petite black girl clinging to his hand forward. "This is my girlfriend, Natalie. There's something really weird going on, and we were told you were the people to see about it."