By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Michael Klueh had an eye-popping seven international gold medals representing the U.S. from 2005 to 2015, four silvers and three bronze. Though he barely missed out on making the Olympic team, he used his time, experience and network wisely: The National Teamer is in Medical School at the University of Michigan, which is where the University of Texas alum trained after his all-American career in Austin. And he is married to fellow National Teamer -- and Michigan alum -- Emily Brunemann, who became an open water standout after excelling as a distance swimmer in the pool. He explains how it all came together, and how it fits together now in his latest challenge in working through med school, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. One thing I marvel at is even though you were golden seven times over on 4 x 200 and 4 x 100 relays, your individual international medals came in the 400, 800 and 1500 -- how incredible is that?
Michael: You know as I got older, I tried to move down in distance. Not necessarily because the events are easier (laughs). But I knew when they took six spots, you might want to try to be good at that one where you can make the team.
2. How’s Medical School at Michigan?
Michael: It’s going really well. I was up taking an exam late last night. So I am recovering and will keep going, just like you do in swimming.
3. How is your amazing wife Emily?
Michael: She’s doing well. She’s always keeping busy. She is actually not swimming anymore. She’s a clinical social worker in the athletic department. She got her master’s in social work and graduated last December.
4. So she just graduated and found a great job already, how cool is that?
Michael: She pretty much walked into her dream job. We’re very fortunate. They had an opening, she applied, and it worked out. She had done most of her field work through the athletic department so they pretty much knew what she could bring to the table.
5. How did you keep swimming so long?
Michael: It was always about trying to get better, to be better than I was the year before. No matter what level you are at, you have goals you set for yourselves. Sometimes you don’t get there, but even when you do get there, you think, “How can I get better?’’ You look to drop time.
6. What did swimming for Eddie Reese and Kris Kubick at the University of Texas in Austin do for you?
Michael: I think they do so much more for you at UT than just swim well and dive well. Eddie and Kris over so many decades molded young boys into men who were ready to embrace the world when their swim careers were over
7. What was it like at that time with all the Olympic medalists still there training when you started?
Michael: It was a really cool experience. You couldn’t look one direction without seeing three or four Olympic medalists. But people were there to support each other. We were each other’s best friends. I still talk with many of those guys.
8. You came so close to winning NCAAs but the team did not -- but that was still the focus, right?
Michael: Every single year we would sit down as a team and the goal was winning NCAAs. Of course we had short-term goals along the way.
9. The program has won it multiple times since, so you can take a lot of pride in keeping them at that high level right, or was it hard leaving without one?
Michael: Especially the last two, where we had runner-up finishes, that was tough. But to see what the team has done since is just incredible. It’s just so cool to watch every year. The tradition is stronger than ever.
10. You miss Austin?
Michael: We all love Austin. The tagline for Austin is “Keep Austin Weird”. It is definitely that. You just embrace the oddness of the city. It’s just a good time. You never know who you are going to run into.
11. And now Ann Arbor -- completely different?
Michael: Ann Arbor kind of reminds me of a smaller version of that as well. And it’s great to have been exposed to that at a larger level of city life in Austin so that I can enjoy it whenever I experience it now.
12. You have been in Ann Arbor for a while now right?
Michael: So I actually didn’t come out here until 2012. I stayed in Austin with Eddie and Kris for several years after I graduated. I did a short stint in California, which was also a super cool experience. That was a lot of fun, training out there.
13. How did you decide to move to Michigan to train?
Michael: So I was at a crossroads in 2012. Growing up, my goal had always been to qualify for the Olympics. At 2004 Olympic Trials, I was a high schooler. I did pretty well but I didn’t have big expectations.
14. So close in the Trials since though, right?
Michael: Definitely in 2008 and 2012 I thought I had myself in a position to get to the Olympics, and I came up short each time. It was a hard decision to know whether I should keep going, or move on. I wasn’t quite done yet.
15. You kept winning medals though all along, all through those 10 years from 2005 through college in 2009 and then 2015 before just missing at 2016 Trials though, so you knew you had something left after 2012?
Michael: That’s where I had to come up with a decision on where to stay next. At that point Emily and I had become pretty much like a package deal. We were looking at coming back to Austin or going to Ann Arbor. I knew I could find good training at either place. We mainly wanted to focus on her open water needs, and this place up here in Michigan was the best option.
16. No regrets on the great time and lives you built though, are there?
Michael: We were really successful for four years through last year. Could it have been better? Of course. But we had great experiences and we are better for it.
17. You seemed time-wise on track in 2016 -- you were very close to making the team weren’t you?
Michael: Going into Trials I thought I was in a better place than I had been at any other Trials before. Obviously, it was really disappointing for it to end the way it did. Especially when the end result was an attainable goal. It wasn’t something crazy where I had to drop a bunch of time, just do what I have been doing but a little bit better.
18. Yet you end up in Med School at one of the nation’s best, your wife already is done with grad school -- you both are National Teamers for what seems like forever, so it ended up pretty cool didn’t it?
Michael: Coming up short one last time was a little disappointing, knowing it was probably -- I don’t need (laughs) to say probably! -- the last time I’ll suit up like that. But like I was saying, I wouldn’t trade where I am now. I am so happy.
19. A lot of swimmers worry that they miss too much of the real world experience post grad work-wise, but for grad school, and something as rigorous as Med School, don’t you feel like staying in an academic atmosphere and living such a disciplined lifestyle prepped you well for this?
Michael: For sure. It definitely has given me great perspective. School’s hard. It is supposed to be hard. But I know that I can do it. Mostly I know I can do it because I am using the same skills I had in swimming. Dedication, determination, goal setting, time management, re-evaluation of how you pick yourself up after you didn’t do as well as you wanted to do -- those are fundamental goals swimming teaches you as a person. I’m so fortunate to have kept swimming as long as I did.
20. You won so many relay medals internationally, and in college -- what did that part of the sport do for you?
Michael: That’s part of the reason I really enjoyed relays; It was something inherently bigger than yourself. You get to a point where the pain is difficult, your arms are falling off and the legs can’t kick anymore. But in a relay, you know there are three guys at the end of the pool depending on you. You’re going to find a way to get it done and give it your all, because you do it for the teammates as well. Those guys are still my friends today. I talk to at least one almost every day. So swimming didn’t just shape who I am, it continues to shape who I am becoming. So no regrets, just a lot of great memories and lifelong friendships with some great people.