Alive and well, Kiel heads to Trials
It started with Brian Kiel taking up swimming simply to stay alive.
The Kiel family — mom and dad Ann and Harvey, and sons Alex and Brian — lived next to the Zumbro River in Rochester.
Ann signed Brian and older brother Alex up for extended swimming lessons with the river in mind. The Kiels wanted to keep their sons around for the long haul.
"I started swimming when I was 6, more for general safety reasons than anything," Brian said. "Growing up next to the Zumbro, my parents wanted us safe."
Turns out that the Kiel brothers developed into far more than "safe" swimmers. They became two of the state's best while swimming at Rochester Century.
And in Brian, things have torpedoed to an entirely different level. For evidence, look no further than what the Purdue University incoming junior is doing Tuesday.
Kiel will swim the 100 backstroke at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. It'll be one of two events for him this week as he takes part in the Olympic Trials. Friday, it's the 200 backstroke, his alias "best friend."
Yes, this swimming thing has worked out for a guy whose life they were simply trying to preserve.
"When I first started going to swim meets, everyone realized I had great potential," said Kiel, who was a state high school champion as a junior, before swimming exclusively for his club team as a senior. "By the time I was 8 years old, I was thinking about someday making the Olympic Trials."
Well, he doesn't have to think about it anymore. Kiel is about to swim with the biggest boys, thanks to nailing down a spot in the Trials this spring and early summer.
"Qualifying for the meet was very exciting," Kiel said. "I was able to join (nine other members) of our (Purdue) team in having qualified. Plus, this had been a goal of mine since I was a little kid."
Kiel has been on a big-time swimming track since he was 14. That's when he was invited to the United State's Olympic swim facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., as one of the 14 fastest boys swimmers in the country.
It left quite an impression on the Rochester kid.
"Brian came back telling us that it was a great experience," Harvey recalled. "He came back flying higher than a kite over it."
Kiel, who picked Purdue over the University of Minnesota, has only become more inspired by his sport as he's pursued it at the Division I level.
In swimming in the Big Ten Conference, he's forced to be on top of his game. Kiel, a chemistry and math major, describes the league as the deepest men's swimming conference in the country.
The Century graduate has fit right in. After being competitive in the 100 and 200 backstrokes as a freshman, he's now one of the league's best in the latter. He finished sixth in the 200 backstroke in this year's Big Ten meet, doing it in a personal-best 1:43.6.
His eventual goal is to win a Big Ten title before he graduates.
But his most immediate desire is to make a serious splash this week, as he takes part in the most prestigious meet of his life.
Kiel isn't looking at the Olympic Trials as simply a meet to gain experience. He wants to do some damage while he's there.
That, he says, would be accomplished by reaching the semifinals (finishing in the top 16) in the 200 backstroke.
"That is my ultimate goal," he said. "I really believe I can do it. My times in practices lately have been as good as my best times in meets."
Actually, that's his "for now" ultimate goal. There's also that dream of actually making the Olympic team someday. Kiel is certain that won't happen this year. But as for down the road, he's willing to dream.
"The Olympics is out of my reach right now," he said. "But I have to take it one meet at a time. If I surprise my team and my coaches, maybe I'll be on that path."