Michael and Emily
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
“It would be a dream come true.”
Michael Klueh and Emily Brunemann sit in the bleachers of Canham Natatorium. It’s a cold, rainy day in March – typical for Michigan in spring – and these two post-graduate swimmers can’t stop smiling. Sitting side-by-side and grinning ear-to-ear, they replay their journey: A journey that hopefully includes the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, but more importantly, a journey that isn’t only about swimming.
In about an hour, both swimmers will leap into the cold waters of Canham and participate in yet another practice. They will swim in adjacent lanes: slogging miles, churning arms, and chasing dreams. Swimming has allowed them to compete in college, meet new people, and travel to international meets around the world (Mike has competed in the World University Games and Emily won last year’s Open Water World Cup circuit). But more than laps and logged miles, swimming has provided them with something else:
See, Michael and Emily met through swimming. And now, they are engaged.
“I think [being engaged] is beneficial because we both have the same interests, and we both have the same goals,” Emily explains. “It helps us keep each other on track with our goals and where we want to go with our careers.”
Upon my request, they share their engagement story. It’s a requisite for any engaged couple to re-explain, over and over, how they got engaged. There’s usually a story-behind-the-story, and Emily and Mike’s engagement story is no exception. You’ll have to watch the AT&T Outside the Pool video to hear the full version, but in short:
Right before they were separated to go to an international swim meet, Mike took Emily out to dinner. On the way home, Emily was visibly disappointed. He asked what was wrong. She said: “I thought you were going to propose to me.”
What she didn’t know? There was a full-on proposal scene secretly already set-up at home, complete with sprinkled rose pedals and chilled champagne, put out when the two were at the restaurant by teammate and 2012 Olympian Connor Jaeger.
“It was one of the better performances Connor had all year,” Michael joked.
The rest is history: She said yes, Michael and Emily became swimming’s newest “power couple,” and coaches have begun to claim their future children (who, if they decide to swim, could inherit their parents’ natural affinity for the water).
“Coaches have started to claim our kids,” Emily joked. “But my kids will only swim if they want to swim. I won’t make them do anything they don’t want to do.”
For now, the post-graduate professional swimmers live and train in Ann Arbor. Emily is a program assistant at Michigan and preparing to get her master’s degree in social work, and Michael is making plans to go to medical school. Of course, they are also wedding planning, which, Michael jokes, takes a lot of time.
But they are also chasing individual dreams: Trying to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Both admit that, should they make the team together, it would be a dream come true. And that’s the goal. In Canham Natatorium, a large digital countdown clock ticks away the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until those Rio Games. They motivate each other in practice, cheer each other at meets, and support each other through the peaks and valleys of competitive swimming.
“I find myself getting more nervous for his races than I do for my own,” Emily says.
“It’s probably a little easier for her because my race is only a couple minutes long,” Michael jokes, referring to Emily’s longer open water distance events. “I’m watching her race for two hours, my stomach turned upside-down.”
We finish our interview. They get ready for another afternoon swim practice. They change into suits and gather at the end of the pool, in adjacent lanes. They mingle with other teammates and then each other, analyzing the upcoming workout.
Then, side-by-side, they dive in together, and begin to swim.