By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, August 3, 2018
If you were paying attention last week during Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, there was someone absent not named Lochte.
After making the National team last year following her fourth-place finish in the 200 breaststroke at Phillips Nationals, Kayla Brumbaum decided to skip this year’s meet in order to focus on her future career in nursing.
She’s not giving up swimming – she expects to be back in the competition pool later this year at Winter Nationals and definitely next year at Phillips 66 Nationals.
She’s simply thinking about and planning for her life after swimming.
“I’m not in the right swim shape to be competitive at Nationals because I’ve been spending so much time on my schoolwork,” she said the week before Nationals.
“I’ve been so focused on my clinicals the past several weeks that I haven’t had much time to train. But I’ll be watching my friends and cheering them on from here.”
An All-American at North Carolina State, Brumbaum, who completed her NCAA eligibility in May 2017 but just recently graduated, is awaiting acceptance into a nursing program away from Raleigh.
She’s applied to Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. – which is an hour east of Charlotte and more than two hours away from her college home – as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has much more competitive admissions.
But in the meantime, she’s getting some more prerequisites done online through Gardner-Webb.
As part of her clinicals, she’s working as a phlebotomist at the hospital, and as someone who has historically been terrified of needles, it’s made for an interesting learning process.
“I had to be held down as a child to get a shot or have blood drawn, and now I’m doing it to other people,” she said. “Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard for me to stick someone else, although my fear of having it done to me is still high. We practiced on one another in class, and it was frightening for me at first but it’s gotten easier.”
When she’s not studying or practicing her needle skills, Brumbaum makes time as often as she can to swim.
She acknowledges the prospect of leaving her swimming family in Raleigh when she starts her nursing program – wherever that might be – won’t be easy as she’s grown to love Raleigh and her coaches and teammates at NC State.
But since she’s still looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 as her ultimate swimming dream, she knows she has to find a new coach and pool to continue training.
“I’m just taking it day by day right now, but once I’m in the nursing program full-time, I want to resume my regular training moving forward,” said Brumbaum, who wants to become a neonatal nurse.
“N.C. State doesn’t have a nursing program or I’d stay here and train and go to school. But I’d really love to stay in North Carolina. I love it here, and it’s not too far from my family in Virginia.”
Brumbaum said her desire to become a nurse dates back to childhood when she knew she wanted to do something to help people.
A natural people-person, medicine made sense to her as a profession where she could do both.
She also knew she loved swimming as a youngster, but it wasn’t until the past couple of years that she began to think and believe that she could swim beyond college.
“I was a pretty average swimmer when I first came to N.C. State, but with the help of my coaches, dryland training to get strong – which I hadn’t done before – and continued growth in confidence in myself, I got better and better,” she said. “By my senior year, I was contending for NCAA titles and then had a strong Nationals last year.
“That really started me thinking that I could keep swimming after college. It also made me believe I also had a shot at making an Olympic team. I’m a late bloomer who still has more to achieve and room to grow.”
During the first couple of years at N.C. State, Brumbaum said part of her struggles weren’t really related to her swimming at all.
Her lack of focus stemmed from a strained relationship with her mom, whom she says was the typical swim mom who wanted the best for her but didn’t always go about it the right way.
Brumbaum said she was able to confide and receive counsel from her college coaches, and through talking with her mom, she was able to repair the relationship.
Over time, their bond grew stronger, and that positivity started rubbing off in her training and meet results.
“I would see my mom in the stands at meets and just shut down; it really impacted my attitude and ultimately my swimming,” she said. “We are both so much happier now, and I’m excited to see her in the stands cheering me on. We have such a strong relationship now. She’s my best friend.”
That relationship improvement has impacted her swimming results in a very positive way, and achieving a spot on the National Team – also something she never dreamed possible – has made her long-term swimming prospects more attainable.
But whatever happens moving forward, Brumbaum said she is excited about where here future is headed in and out of the water.
“When I think about how far I’ve come as a swimmer – a scared 17-year-old at 2012 Trials; a more experienced and confident swimmer in 2016; top four at Nationals in 2017 – I know there’s more for me to accomplish and experience moving forward,” said Brumbaum, who competed for the United States at World University Games in 2017, finishing fourth in the 200 breast. “But I’m also really looking forward to continuing my education in nursing and pursuing that in the future.
“I’m planning to swim next year and in 2020, and then, depending on how things are going with my swimming, I’ll decide what to do next. But it’s looking more and more like I’ll be ready to start the next phase of my professional life regardless of what happens at 2020 Olympic Trials. That will be my last hurrah, and I’m really looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life.”