On top of the world

Courtesy of Emily Brunemann

After a rocky 2012, Emily Brunemann rebounded with a huge title in 2013: the FINA Female 10K World Cup champion.

The saying goes that everyone chooses their own road in life, and all I can say for myself is that I’ve chosen a roller coaster instead of a road!

This past year I ended up being the first American, male or female, to win the eight-race FINA 10K World Cup swimming series. But it certainly wasn’t easy -- and was a nail-biter until the end.

The second-to-last race of the season was on Sept. 29 in a river in Shantou, China. I had a good race -- finishing second -- but afterward, there were seven of us who got really sick. The doctors thought it was a bacterial infection from the river water, and I ended up in the hospital in Hong Kong for four days!

Our final race was just six days later, on Oct. 5 in Hong Kong, and since I was at the top of the leaderboard for the World Cup series, I was very concerned about how I would perform after being so sick.

I tried to stay as positive as possible, knowing there was nothing I could do to change the situation. During the race I was able to stay with the lead pack initially, but I just didn’t have the energy to last and ended up 10th -- my worst finish of the year.

I’d estimated that I needed to finish around fifth or sixth to keep my first- place overall ranking, and I was extremely disappointed, thinking I had lost the series title.

Courtesy of Emily Brunemann

Emily Brunemann, no. 6, points to her father after a race this past season. Her father, James, often serves as a feeder in races, providing Brunemann with food and drinks along the course.

But after hours of feeling dejected, I realized that I had calculated it wrong. The races were weighted differently than in years past, and I was actually the winner of the circuit. That evening I was crowned the 2013 FINA Female 10K World Cup champion. All I could think was, “Yeeeeeeeees!” My hard work and determination had actually paid off. We all know it doesn’t always work out that way, so I was incredibly thankful.

After a disappointing 2012 that didn’t include the Olympics, I decided at the beginning of 2013 to refocus and set new goals. My goal for this year was a big one: to win the World Cup series. Along the way, I hoped to get as much international experience as possible and build my confidence level as well.

In the first race of the year in January in Santos, Brazil, I swam against 2012 Olympic gold medalist Eva Risztov, 2012 World Cup series champion Ana Marcela Cunha, and many other Olympians and world champions in the 36-woman field. When I ended up winning that race, I knew it was the start of an amazing journey.

This past year I represented the United States in 10 different countries. It was such an honor. I enjoyed the travel, and met some awesome people along the way. In fact, I’m getting married next September and plan to invite many of the international competitors with whom I’ve formed friendships.

When the season ended, I took a well-deserved two-week break from the pool. I hadn’t taken a rest like that in five years, and it was so nice to relax without the pressure of training and competing. The break also made me realize how important it is to build these rest times into the season plan. It helped me appreciate what I’m doing and made me want to be back out there that much more.

Last week I was lucky to leave the cold of Michigan for a 5K race in the Cayman Islands. It was part of the islands’ annual “Pirates Week” (I’m serious!), and was just what the doctor ordered. I got some sun and had a lot of fun, too.

Now, it’s back to training and I’m looking forward to my next race in January. Although my “road” in open-water swimming hasn’t been easy, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m excited for what’s to come in the next couple of years, and I’m hungry and ready to get back out there in 2014!