By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Emily Brunemann continues to find herself on the podium at open water events. Though she was disappointed, missing out on an Olympic berth, she has used it in a positive way to push herself forward. She has also returned to her alma mater, which is among the items she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Where are you and what are you doing?
Emily: I am in Ann Arbor, and I am training, competing in the World Cup circuit.
2. So you are into coaching now?
Emily: Yes! I am working with the women’s swim team here. I am so happy being back here and helping with the team.
3. What is that like?
Emily: Oh, it’s incredible. I train with the team as well, so being able to train with these people and see where the program has come from – not that it was ever a bad program to start with – but to see what Mike Bottom, Josh White, Mark Hill and all of the staff have done with the swim team the past years is just amazing.
4. Will you aim for 2016?
Emily: Right now, I am just taking it one year at a time. This year started out really good. I hope it continues. I am not putting any pressure on myself this time though.
5. Open water has been a pretty great experience for you, hasn’t it?
Emily: I have had the opportunity to travel the world and meet amazing people, so I am just enjoying the journey. If things keep going well, I’ll keep going toward 2016; if not, I’ll reconsider, but right now I’m just having a good time and feel there’s a lot of room to get better.
6. That’s an optimistic and great attitude, because there must have been a little letdown after not making it in 2012 right?
Emily: These past two years have been a little more frustrating than I hoped. I feel I have always been “there,” but I haven’t been at the top.
7. You have made some great friends in the sport’s new discipline, haven’t you?
Emily: Oh, completely. The open water is so close. On the U.S. team, we look at each other like family. While any one of us would have loved to be there, we were thrilled to see what Haley Anderson accomplished, though anyone who knows her and has competed with her understands her talent and determination.
8. There were five or six of you competing for that one sport and it was close, wasn’t it?
Emily: There is so much depth, any one of us could have been there. There is still a ways for us to go as a program – I would have liked to see two people from America at the Olympics. And I think in 2016 there is no doubt we will have two people there. We have the depth to do it.
9. Those finishes, here at Trials, in Portugal, and at the Olympics – right down to the wire – how can that be?
Emily: It’s so exciting. It really is incredible. A two-hour race can come down to tenths of a second. Most of the race is swimming in a group and staying with the pace, but the endings are incredible. Anyone can pull ahead at the end. You win by tenths of a second in a two-hour race - amazing.
10. Having only one spot – is part of that the U.S. getting a better idea of what it takes to be competitive, perhaps logistically, in the sport?
Emily: It definitely comes with maturity in the sport. There are more people traveling to international races, and you need that experience to develop your program. That’s a big thing because U.S. races are very different from international races. If you don’t get more girls to international meets, they don’t get the experience they need to secure those spots for the big meets.
11. How was Mexico, and how great was the U.S. women’s team you were with?
Emily: In Cozumel, there were eight girls from the U.S. in that one race alone. Those international races are a lot more technical and a lot more physical. In the races here in the U.S., it’s just a different race because we don’t have that kind of field.
12. And that’s not a criticism, right?
Emily: Oh not at all – I am not saying that we have done badly by any means, but it’s just part of development, to get to those bigger races and understand how to compete at that level. Look at Haley, and what a success story she is, from how she competed here and at the qualifier to the Olympics.
13. Back at Michigan – isn’t life odd at times?
Emily: I really am very happy. It’s funny because I am a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason I am doing well, whereas in the past year I didn’t do as well as I wanted and I didn’t know if I should continue. And here I am having the best year of my life.
14. So you aren’t done with the water yet?
Emily: I think I have a lot more in me, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
15. You mentioned the close-knit U.S. team, but I hear you have friends around the world, correct?
Emily: Yes, and it is incredible. And not only that, I have made friends with a bunch of people on the circuits. For example, we on the U.S. team are really close with the German team, and I am planning a trip to go visit them. I get the opportunity to see a lot of things not a lot of people get to see.
16. And your heritage involves a bit of German, right?
Emily: There’s a Brunemann hotel in Germany I would like to go see! I think it’s just a great opportunity to make these relationships, and I am very lucky to have the kind of friends who want me to see the country.
17. You have met some amazing people from different cultures haven’t you?
Emily: One thing I am jealous of, from the people on the circuit is that they all speak five different languages. They do all the races and the technical meetings in English, though (laughs), so I can stay up to speed. But I’d like to learn other languages, and I’d start with German.
18. How did you get to this good place in your life now?
Emily: I think it’s a combination of things, for sure. I have definitely grown as an individual and as a swimmer. I want to be someone the girls on the team here at Michigan can look up to. When I was here, we had this amazing training group of Erik Vendt, Hayley Peirsol, Kaitlin Sandeno – I could go on and on. I was just an undergrad, so I took that opportunity to learn from them. Now, I want to be that person our swimmers can ask a question about anything. I want to tell them where I am and how I got here. Hopefully it will help them in their careers.
19. You’ve really become more of a leader and an ambassador for the sport as well as a top star, haven’t you?
Emily: I don’t look at it as “my” swimming anymore; I look at it as something I can share with other people. That has helped me grow into who I am. That being said, the program here at Michigan has changed, and I love it. But it is a lot different from what I have ever done. The culture is also a lot more about team, than about the individual, and I think that’s important. That keeps you motivated. That’s something I struggled with the last two years, having to be motivated on my own and focus just on myself. I don’t work as well that way – I don’t do that well either, with just one thing on my plate.
20. You have other plans at Michigan? You love being there too, don’t you?
Emily: Well, I always bleed Maize and Blue. It’s something that is deep in my heart. I love this university and everything it stands for. Coming back here is an amazing opportunity because I love being here; I love the city of Ann Arbor, and even though the winters are cold, I love it. I would really like to go to school again here, if I can get in. I am looking into a couple of different options, maybe applying for a master’s in social work, or some other programs in psychology. I’d like to do something where I can help other people. You get to a point in your life where it’s not “all about you,” and you see where you can fit in, give back, and help people along the way. I’ve had great people in my life do that for me, and I am very fortunate to be in a position at a great school with incredible people, to do the best I can and give back some to the sport, the student-athletes, and the school.