Emily Brunemann has been at the top of the American distance swimming community, pool or open water, for nearly a decade. After winning the NCAA title for her alma mater, the University of Michigan, she entered the open water swimming arena and became the first American woman to win the FINA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit.
But her career is winding down and this summer and fall will be her last competitive season. She discussed her impending retirement and last season in the open water world:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Why did you decide to retire?
Emily Brunemann: I have decided this year will be my last year of competitive swimming after finding a passion outside of the sport of swimming. I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the fall of 2012 after training for two years in Southern California with FAST and [coach] Jon Urbanchek.
With this move I knew I needed to do something with my life other than just training. I started working for the college team, as a program assistant – helping mainly with recruiting and travel needs. Through my entire career and life outside of swimming, I have always had a love for helping others.
I knew I needed to get my master’s or Ph.D. in order to pursue a career after swimming. I did a lot of research and talked to those I trusted. They guided me in the direction of Social Work. With this advice and being in Michigan, I jumped with both feet in applying to the University of Michigan MSW program. I was accepted and have been overwhelmed with passion, love, commitment, and excitement for how much my life has changed since being in this program.
My career goal is to work clinically with athletes on mental health and well-being. I believe everyone can benefit from working on their mental health. We all fall on the continuum of well-being and can fluctuate along that continuum throughout life. Understanding and owning your own mental well-being can help when times are bad or even maintaining stability.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Was it a difficult decision?
Emily Brunemann: I had a very difficult time back in the fall of 2014. I had just gotten married and started school again (in the same week) after taking four years away from academics. Through my first semester, I felt like my world was turned upside down.
I did not expect my passion for my academics to hit me as hard as it did. With my program I have maintained a 4.0 [grade point average], worked 20 hours a week through an internship, taken full-time course load, been one of the directors of the Wolverine support network [where] a core team member of athletes connected and helped with conducting research and writing the paper to be published, as well as full-time training.
Many times over this past year, I was overwhelmed with so much going on. Quite honestly the hardest part was that I wanted to be involved with more.
However, even with everything going on with school, I was not ready to stop swimming. It was a constant pull between school and swimming. It wasn’t until one of my awesome professors told me that I was going through the emotions of death, loss, and grief.
When she mentioned this to me it was like a light bulb, I finally had a name for the emotions that I was going through. I knew my swimming career was coming to an end and did not know how to cope with it.
This realization, with the help of my professor, actually gave me so much relief. I knew no matter what happened at 2015 USA Swimming Open Water National Championships, I had so much to look forward to. This took the pressure off and allowed me to just have fun with everything.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are you giving up with your retirement?
Emily Brunemann: I do not believe I am giving up anything. I have gotten more from my swimming career than I ever thought possible.
I have made invaluable friendships, met my husband, traveled the world, learned about whom I am, and the qualities it takes to be great. These lessons will carry me the rest of my life.
Will I miss the travel and seeing friends across the country at meets? Yes, absolutely, but I am ready for the next phase of life. I am ready to support my husband as he goes through medical school, ready for new adventures, and new experiences.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are you gaining with your retirement?
Emily Brunemann: With retirement, I will have the flexibility to pursue other passions that I have not been able to do because of training. I will be able to spend more time with family, I will be able to have children, obtain a job with a stable income, and quite honestly not be so tired from training all the time.
I am excited to get involved with other endeavors as well as see my nieces and family more often.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is the formal process to retire?
Emily Brunemann: So I am competing through the year, taking part in US Olympic Swimming Trials and competing on the FINA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit; the last race is mid-October.
My final race, however, will be the Cayman Islands Pirate’s Festival 5 km held in November. My family and friends are coming down for it and I am so excited.
The formal process actually has to do with drug testing. If you officially retire with USADA [US Anti-Drug Association] and decide to come back to the sport with USA Swimming, you have to wait 6-9 months to be back in the testing pool. This does not apply to masters swimming.
Other than that, some make a [public] statement and some do not. It is up to the individual person how they want to retire.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you come out of retirement? If so, is there a certain bureaucratic process involved with un-retirement?
Emily Brunemann: This again only has to do with USADA. If you retire with USADA and then want to come back you have to sit out 6-9 months before being able to compete again, with USA Swimming.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: After training so hard for so many years, how is your lifestyle going to change? How does your diet and nutrition have to change? What will you do to stay physically fit?
Emily Brunemann: My lifestyle will definitely change. I am so excited to start trying different types of exercise. This year I added into my training Orangetheory Fitness, which has replaced two of my swimming workouts a week because the workouts are so intense.
However, I needed to add something different, to keep me on my toes. I have been training for so long the same way, I needed something that gave my week more excitement and Orangetheory has done that so far.
I fully intend on continuing with Orangetheory and I would love to run a marathon as well as trying some triathlons.
I fully believe exercise will always be a part of my life. I believe in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. I will also need to look at my nutrition and change things a little. Luckily [my husband] Michael loves to workout and eat healthy so having a partner with this is so important.
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