There was a time when Michael Brus entertained the notion of chasing championships at the highest level.
Now, the Grinnell College swimmer from Davenport North is more than comfortable chasing his own dream.
“This is the right place for me, a good level of competition and great academics,” Brus said. “As much as I look forward to competing, I understand that there is more to life that matters. I enjoy the experience.”
Brus enters this week’s NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships in Shenandoah, Texas, with the top qualifying times in both the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes.
The three-time Midwest Conference men’s swimmer of the year has posted a time of 49.01 seconds in the 100 and established an NCAA Division III record in the 200 when he was clocked at 1 minute, 45.94 seconds at the Midwest Conference championships.
He also has qualified for the NCAA meet, which begins today, in the 200 freestyle, where he is ranked eighth.
“I’m going about things as I usually do. I feel like my experience of being there in past seasons will be a significant help to me,” Brus said. “It’s a new venue, which I’m looking forward to, but I will go there with confidence knowing that I can compete.”
A three-time all-American in his first two seasons at Grinnell, Brus followed a fourth-place finish in the 200 backstroke as a freshman with a third last season. He also finished eighth in the 100 a year ago and earned honorable mention all-American status in the 200 free.
Brus arrived at Grinnell with no expectations of the success he has enjoyed at the national level.
“I didn’t even expect to make it to nationals as a freshman, and now I’m a national record holder,” he said. “It’s been a little surreal for me. I never envisioned having the type of career here that I’ve had.”
Swimming has always been a part of Brus’ life. He followed his older brother, Steven, into the pool at Davenport North.
His high school accolades paled in comparison to those earned by his brother, who went on to compete at Notre Dame, but Steven Brus’ experiences helped his younger brother forge his own path and shaped the future of an athlete who has become one of the nation’s elite small-college swimmers.
“There was a time when I wanted to go big-time, but once my brother got to that level and I learned more about what competing at the D-I level was all about, the more I realized it wasn’t for me,” Michael said. “It was right for him, and this is right for me. You train and compete as seriously as you would at a D-I school, but the environment is different at the D-III level.”
He landed at Grinnell in part because a cousin had competed for the women’s team there and enjoyed the experience.
It didn’t take the chemistry major long to realize he had found “the right fit.”
“The coaching staff (Erin Hurley and Tim Hammond) has helped me immensely, and they are the biggest reason I’ve been able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished,” Brus said. “They create an environment that has helped me develop as a competitor, and they respect the academic requirements that are a part of competing at the D-III level.”
That environment helped Brus qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200-meter backstroke last summer.
He entered with realistic expectations and savors the experience he gained against the nation’s best.
“It was an incredible opportunity and one of the best experiences of my life, just to be able to compete in a situation like that,” Brus said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
Brus hopes to craft more memories this week in suburban Houston.
“This is the best time of year for me, not stressful at all,” Brus said. “I’ve done all of the work that I need to do all season, and this is when that pays off. I may have the top times going in, but I realize I’ll face great competition there, and that motivates me as much as anything.”