University of Texas alum Michael Klueh made it onto the U.S. World Championships Team a year after missing out on the Olympics. But every part of the journey added up a couple of weeks ago when he asked his Club Wolverine teammate Emily Brunemann to marry him. (She said yes, by the way). She’s off at the World University Games, and he’s in Barcelona, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Was Emily caught off guard?
Michael: I think she was pretty surprised - well, as much (laughs) as you can be after dating for four or five years!
2. So she did or didn’t expect it?
Michael: Here’s the funny part: We had just gone to dinner. On the way to the car she just gave me a look and she said, “I just thought you might propose tonight.” We were, at that point, 20 minutes from the planned proposal! I said, “I hope you don’t feel that way. I hope you had fun.” I had to play it off, because it was coming up in 20 minutes!
3. Come on man, take us through it, please?
Michael: Earlier in the day, she had gotten a massage. I had prepared a bunch of stuff, had gotten roses and stuff like that. I had taken pedals off 50 roses – which took a long time! I thought it would take something like 10 minutes. I didn’t get everything hidden away until right before she got back from her massage. I hid it away in back of closet, and we left for dinner. I had it set up that Connor Jaeger would come over while we were gone and set up the roses in the special pattern. He did even better than I thought, and had the special touch of making a heart shape with the roses. We got home and Emily said, “When did this happen, how did you do this?” That was thanks to Connor help me out with something so important and doing such a great job.
4. Always hire the smart engineers for stuff like this, right?
Michael: Yeah, exactly. He did a great job! For all those ladies out there, he should definitely have a girlfriend, because he really has that romantic side to himself, and very thoughtful. He’s awesome as a teammate, and as a friend. You could never ask for better.
5. How cool is it that you are still swimming?
Michael: Yes, it really is, and I really enjoy swimming. When I was younger, there weren’t too many older swimmers. As soon as you finished college, most swimmers were done. As I have gotten older, it seems like everyone swims after college. I am happy I have had opportunities to stay in the sport, thanks to USA Swimming, the USOC and my family. There have been other important factors.
6. Can you name one?
Michael: The Crippen family was great this year with the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation. I am honored to be awarded the Work the Dream grant. What an honor and cool thing to have this boost from Fran and his family. I have been able to keep chasing this dream I have had since I was a little kid.
7. Does it mean even more since Fran knew Emily from open water?
Michael: Yes, because she was extremely close to Fran. It’s still extremely tough on her, as it is with everyone who knew Fran. He’s like Connor Jaeger in that he’s a great athlete and fierce competitor, but an even better person.
8. So back in the day you are knocking out the 1500, and now you come back to the 400 and 200 – what’s next, the sprints?
Michael: I don’t know, in my (laughs) old age I’m a more middle distance guy now.
9. Isn’t that range a positive in so many ways?
Michael: I mean, what my old coach Eddie Reese used to say, my range was the worst thing about me, because it always kept me from being too specific in my training. I like being able to do multiple things, and even work the butterfly and backstroke, because if I were doing the same thing every day, I would hate it. It’s good to have a variety for your training in practice every day because it makes it more enjoyable.
10. How much did you enjoy college at UT Austin?
Michael: Austin was great. The college, the people, my teammates, but especially (coaches) Eddie Reese and Kris Kubik, because they just really are father figures for everyone who goes through that program. Think of how many have gone through that program for the past three-plus decades, and how many lives those outstanding men have touched in a positive way.
11. How did you become a Longhorn being from Indiana?
Michael: I actually ended up in Austin in high school where I swam for Randy Reese (Eddie’s brother). As much as people say they are different, they really are a lot alike, in looking after people, and being just phenomenal coaches.
12. Having family members as swimmers, how much did that impact you?
Michael: It was important to stay fit and active in our family. I remember when we were little, almost being out of the house, off on our bicycles every day. We were never inside watching videos or playing video games. We were almost always outside doing something.
13. I know your older sister Elizabeth was a great swimmer at Butler, but your younger sister Mary is too, right?
Michael: She really is! She’s a sophomore on the IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) swim team.
14. How did you end up majoring in kinesiology?
Michael: Well, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I went to college. I was always interested in the body, and kinesiology is about how the body moves. It seemed like a natural choice, and then toward the end of college, I started taking Pre-Pharmacy, and got all my chemistry done, with biology and genetics. I didn’t get into that until the end, which was a blessing because I learned a lot about myself and what I needed to do for school, so by the time I got to my hardest classes, I was prepared. I ended up with better grades in tough classes than I got in the earlier lower-division core courses. I was able to tell my sister what I learned to help her get through the challenging pre-med stuff she is doing.
15. You had some great finals at Pan Pacs and medals galore from WUGs, gold at Short Course Worlds, medals from Nationals – that’s quite a career so far, isn’t it, or have you looked back on it yet?
Michael: I don’t know if any of us are really looking for career achievement awards. We all want to do our best at the next race we have up. A lot of us judge ourselves on the last race we swim. That’s the one that is freshest in our mind. We’re not focused on the big picture of our career as much as we are on the next race. We put things behind us and move on to next one. I don’t even know where most of my medals are, probably in a drawer somewhere.
16. So no wall or trophy case for you?
Michael: The only thing on the wall are two portraits, which are pictures that help me remember the times I spent with my teammates. They are from when we set the 800 relay record at Texas, just a great swimming memory. The first time was my junior year, when we had no idea we were going to break it. We were just aiming for the school record. It was Dave Walters, Ricky Berens, me and Matt McGinnis, and it was before Ricky and David were Olympians. We were just college kids at that point. The following year, we had Scott Jostes instead of Matt McGinnis, who had graduated.
17. You made the Worlds team on the 4x200 free relay, but you seem to have more speed left. Will you diversify to other events or strokes?
Michael: Probably the only other option than the freestyle would be the 200 butterfly. My backstroke is better in yards because of my underwater kick, and I can’t do breaststroke to save my life. Eddie Reese used to (laughs) tell me, “Never to do the breaststroke with the lights on.” I train with Tyler Clary (at FAST and now at Michigan), and I can give him a good push in some sets, but he crushes me on breaststroke.
18. Your move to Michigan from SoCal via Texas landed you right in the middle of another outstanding club team, didn’t it – not to mention the current NCAA Champion men, right?
Michael: I was just thinking about this the other day, about how every other practice is like a National Team training camp with the athletes you have in the pool, for every stroke and every distance. There are records everywhere, even in the IM – they just have everything right now. Nothing is lacking.
19. What did you get from just missing the Olympic Team in 2012?
Michael: The 2012 Trials were pretty tough, not during but after the meet, because I went home to see Matt McLean and Tyler Clary – both of whom I was so proud of and happy for – packing their bags to go to the Olympics. We had all been training with the same goal for the past few years, and their goals were realized. Mine was over. That was tough. This year when I looked up at the clock 7th by .06 in the 200, it was almost like I had a laugh, “Really? Again?” But a couple of days later I was packing my bag for Spain because Connor’s schedule worked better if he didn’t do the relay. I could not be more excited to represent our country at the biggest meet in the world.
20. But this is about more than just making the team for you, isn’t it?
Michael: Definitely. I am not to the point where I will just be happy to be there because I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder and I have something to prove. I didn’t place in a position to automatically make the team. My performance in Spain is going to show why I am on this team, and the goal is to make a difference and help our relay be the best it can be.