By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Emma Reaney took on the world, including Olympians, and came out on top at NCAAs. The Notre Dame standout has established herself as one of the top breaststrokers heading into what should be a sort-out meet for the ages, as it will be used to next year’s international teams. Reaney talks about what she’s learned, and how she hopes to apply it – and just what TV character she’s really named after – in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What has this season meant to you – is it a breakout year?
Emma: My coach and I have been interviewed a couple of times and that topic has popped up, about how this is such a breakout year. But he says that for people who have been watching this isn’t a surprise.
2. You needed this kind of performance this year though, didn’t you?
Emma: This year was my time to let people know, I am here. Don’t forget about me.
3. How much do you love Notre Dame?
Emma: I actually just gave a speech on sort of this topic on Saturday morning, about the atmosphere here and how on our recruiting trip I got the Notre Dame bug (laughs) and just couldn’t shake it. It’s good to be surrounded by people constantly striving to be the best they can be. We are not down as a swim school here or anything, but we are known for other things.
4. Your hometown of Lawrence, Kan., and South Bend are a lot more different than people think aren’t they?
Emma: They really are. My Mom and I talked about that all the time. It’s weird because it’s the opposite of where I have grown up. I love Lawrence, I love the diversity, and the overall acceptance of everybody there. Notre Dame isn’t quite as liberal or college town-ish as I am used to. It has been good for me to see another side of the world and explore totally different people than I grew up around.
5. And Lawrence also has one of the country’s great universities, right?
Emma: It really is a great school. Everyone asked why I didn’t go to KU, but I spent 18 years of my life in Lawrence, and I was ready to do new things.
6. I drove across Kansas maybe 150 times as a small town newspaperman, and could not believe all the astronauts who were from there, and a lot of the history behind it – isn’t there a lot in Kansas that outsiders don’t know about if they judge it by the evening news?
Emma: There is, and I am so proud of that. When people asked, Where are you from? And I say I am from Kansas, they make comments like, “Oh, I’m really sorry.” I tell them, No, I am fine, I love where I grew up.
7. You specialize in the breaststroke, but do you train other strokes?
Emma: I do, and that does make it more enjoyable. I severely dislike (laughs) doing breaststroke all the time. I love racing it, but training it is really hard. I have to be on the same intervals as everyone else and not get any rest. I grew up being an IMer – that was my specialty all through high school and club, and I had a 200 IM cut in 2008. Slowly as I got older and got to college, breaststroke sort of became it for me. I do like training IM as well.
8. How big was your ACC meet this year, where you broke NCAA and American records (before re-breaking it at NCAAs)?
Emma: That was an important step, part of the process. After ACCs when all the hype started about that race (200 breast) will be the most anticipated race at NCAAs, yeah it got me a little nervous but it got me more excited than anything. When I am excited and ready to do something, that’s when I am going to do my best. Someone said it’s your race to lose, but it wasn’t – it was my race to prove myself more than anything, not only to people at NCAAs but in the entire swimming world. And I like doing it for “smaller swim schools” like Notre Dame, showing that swimmers from these schools can accomplish things.
9. How cool is it to look up and see Breeja Larson next to you at a race?
Emma: Beeja and I had a great meet racing each other the whole time. Racing someone of her caliber and having the result I did gives me confidence moving forward the next few years, and the cool part is, as great as a swimmer and champion as she is, she’s even more incredible as a person.
10. So you are making a change for summer training?
Emma: I will be training with David Marsh all summer. My last day here is May 9, and I go down to SwimMAC a couple of days after that.
11. How did that work?
Emma: I don’t really know, I am just the kind of person where it’s, “tell me where to go and I will swim.” I roll with the punches, so I will take this great opportunity and go to SwimMAC to train with Coach Marsh.
12. What was the process of deciding to go there like – what did it involve?
Emma: Well, besides the obvious (laughs) that he’s produced so many amazing swimmers, (Notre Dame Coach) Brian Barnes and Coach Marsh coached together at Auburn. I know Brian learned a lot of his coaching style from Coach Marsh. I knew I wanted to go to a place where I wouldn’t have things completely shaken up – I wouldn’t have my training turned on its head. I talked to Brian about it, and then I talked to Coach Marsh at Trials and at U.S. Open, and he was very nice about it.
13. How did you end up loving swimming?
Emma: It’s definitely not a conscious sort of thing for me; I’ve been a water baby since I was born. My parents couldn’t even get me out of the bathtub! They had to drag me out of the pool during the summer.
14. So your parents were supportive, did that help you enjoy it more
Emma: As the only child, I got a lot of attention growing up, so since they had only me they could focus on me going to sleep on time every night, and that sort of time management really carries over into things.
15. People think that changes and leaves you but it doesn’t does it?
Emma: I think being raised the way I was helped with college and being able to manage swimming and schoolwork, though as you know swimmers in general are really good at that. To this day though I still try to get to bed at a decent time, because if I am not well rested I do not want to do the work. So I get dinner, study and go to bed.
16. You made Dean’s list so school is going well, what’s your major?
Emma: I chose graphic design because I have been doing creative things since I was little. I went to a creative pre-school, and have been doing photography since eighth grade. I just love being creative. With the Fine Arts job market, there are a lot of things you can do.
17. Aren’t you also doing something business related?
Emma: To make sure I had options I also looked at getting a good minor, and I am doing business economics for that, and that seems to be helpful for anyone. I am taking accounting right now which is kicking my behind! But I really enjoy it – especially the economics.
18. You are an IMer by trade, how much do you focus on fly, and do you do freestyle?
Emma: I do a lot of sets where, to be honest, I don’t train much fly. I probably train that the least. I know if my fly is on I can go fast. When I came in here my freshman year, my backstroke was awful, and Brian asked me one day, “Do you know how to do flutter kick?” I was like, yes, so I do a lot of sets half backstroke, have breaststroke. We do a lot of days where everyone does freestyle so I get a lot of exposure to that.
19. What a great name, Emma, is that a family name?
Emma: Where does it come from? Oh my gosh, my Mom saw it on a show. Do you remember Thirtysomething (Peter Horton’s character, Gary and Susannah’s baby was named Emma)? So it’s not a family name. I’m pretty sure my great grandma was stunned I wasn’t named (laughs) after her (Mary), because I think that was an option!
20. Big junior year of college now in the books for you, but an even bigger year coming up and then the one after that – pretty neat time, isn’t it?
Emma: This year was important because ultimately I needed to know and prove that I can hang with these great swimmers who are so accomplished. I will have another year between college and Olympic Trials, so hopefully this year will guide me to where I want to go for that training.