Jan. 16, 2014
Former Wolverine Justine (Mueller) Bowker ('08) has spent the last five years continuing to work toward her ultimate goal: swimming in the Olympics. She recently competed alongside the Michigan women's swimming and diving team at the AT&T U.S. Winter National Championships (Dec. 5-7) for her club, T2 Aquatics. She is currently living and training in Florida and has the distinction of being a member of USA Swimming's National Team. MGoBlue.com spoke with Mueller shortly after the Winter Nationals to learn about her journey to the national team.
On her journey from Ann Arbor to Florida ... "Since graduating, I moved to North Carolina and I trained with SwimMac Carolina for a couple of years. I won two U.S. Open titles in 2009 and made the national team for the first time in 2009. Then I had a couple of down years. I semifinaled at the 200-meter IM at the 2012 Olympic trials and then I moved to T2 Aquatics (in Florida) in 2012. I started training with a coach named Paul Yetter who used to coach with Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Then I won the 200-meter IM at the U.S. Open to make the national team this year."
On how post-college training has benefitted her development ... "The biggest thing is just being so far removed from college and having a different perspective on swimming in general and what's required to be a great athlete -- the time commitment has changed. I work full-time now. College swimming, you feel like it defines you and it is your way of life, now it is just a piece of what I do."
On her day job ... "I do HR and IT for a facilities maintenance company that is located in North Carolina. I worked in their office for more than two years. When I moved to Florida I kept my job and now work from home. I am blessed to have such a great job and such a flexible job."
On working at Nationals ... "I was emailing pretty much all weekend and worked in between sessions. The only exception was Friday, I decided I was going to take a nap since it was Friday afternoon and nothing was pressing. I am usually sitting on the pool deck on my phone texting or emailing and communicating with work. People know if I put down my phone it is because of a good reason, not because I'm ignoring them."
On finding balance in her life ... "If something is not working the way I want it to, it is going to have to be changed, dropped or managed better. I really like all of the pieces of my life and that is really the key. If you don't like something you can't spend 20 to 40 hours a week doing it -- you shouldn't or you'll be miserable."
On how she met her husband Chris ... "I met him at the pool -- surprise. He brought his club team to train with us at SwimMac but we didn't start dating or become anything more than acquaintances until about a year after that. We just kept running into each other at swim meets and talking and being social. We coached together for about 18 months for a club team called Star Aquatics in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then we moved to T2."
On what coaching taught her about herself ... "I learned a lot of things. (It helped) get my competitive edge back. When swimming is a priority, you can lose sight of the value of winning. You put so much pressure on yourself to be the best or go best time, and you lose sight of what it means when you don't win and when you aren't successful. Kids just get up and they forget that somebody has beaten them or they didn't go a best time and they just get up and race. You have to get that kid mentality back and go have fun with it."
On her goals for the future ... "The ultimate goal is to make the 2016 Olympics. My year-in and year-out goal would just be to make the national team and get faster at some of the events that aren't my top events. I like swimming everything -- except the mile. My goal is to get better at everything so I can be one of the top 200 and 400 IMers in the world. I go to swim meets to swim a lot of events. If I'm going to a sectional meet or weekend meet, I'm going to swim the full list of events -- whatever the max is. It's good to race that much and have opportunities to swim best times when you're not tapered or not swimming your normal focus events. It makes it easier to get through the season when you are posting best times, even if it's not an event you really care about."
On swimming short course at the AT&T Winter Nationals ... "I swam pretty well. It was the first time that I've gone to major swim meet in a while with the mindset that I'd just race and see what happens. I wasn't going to focus on technique -- because I always focus on technique and race strategy -- so I went in and just decided that I would race and see where that took me. I had a pretty successful weekend: I B finaled in three events and was A final in another event and went best time in the 100-yard butterfly.
"It's so easy to get caught up in the times and where you were last year and where you want to be. You just have to know that these stepping stones are valuable but the value isn't in just the times you post."
On the importance of dry land training ... "I do a lot of different things out of the water. In the last year, I haven't done a lot of strength training but I've done a lot of spinning and pilates. I don't have a history of a strength program -- like lifting weights -- so I have to be careful how much I add. I can get pretty broken down going in the weight room. We started adding weights in the spring and I did a short program that was good. Most of it is maintaining where I am and focusing on the cardio.
"I really like group exercise classes, probably because I stare at a black line two hours every day. It's nice to listen to music and have an instructor talking to you all the time, which is different than swimming."
Contact: Michael Kasiborski (firstname.lastname@example.org)