The 20-year-old is back from Germany, ready to emulate her idol Dunford
In the long annals of swimming, two Brunlehner sisters stand out.
The first is Sylvia; the Mombasa-based swimmer who has an admirable pace with some of the most clinical finishes.
She has represented Kenya in more than seven FINA World Championships, three Commonwealth Games, the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and All African Games, among other top events.
The other Brunlehner is Maria, who was based in Germany.
She boasts better statistics and could go down as one of Kenya’s greatest swimmers, going by her recent performances at international championships.
Maria who is the youngest among the two sisters, has the potential of conquering the world.
She has been in a stupendous form, winning almost at will.
When she was 18 years old in 2018, Maria splashed to victory in 58.87 seconds in the 100m freestyle at the Africa Youth Games in Algeria. She also broke the championship’s record with a new time of 26.14 in 50m freestyle .
She went on to bag two gold medals and a silver at the gala, a feat she says stands out in her 12-year career.
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what you love and for me, it must be swimming,” said Maria in an interview with the Sunday Standard.
“I have always been seeing myself standing on the podium with a gold medal wrapped around my neck. Algeria was good and I want more of that.”
Brunhelner’s exploits in Algeria saw her earn a place in Kenya’s team to the Olympic Youth Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina held later in 2018.
She capped the year with another personal accolade; Sports Personality for the month of July.
Tragedy, however, struck after an illness locked out the Kenyan swimmer from making her mark at the junior Olympic stage.
“It was painful to miss that opportunity being Kenya’s sole representative in the discipline, but I never gave up,” she said.
Her eyes are now focused on qualifying for the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled for next year.
“The Olympics stage is the crème de la crème of swimming. After missing the youth Olympics, my target now is to surpass my sister’s achievements and make it to the grand stage next year.”
Kenya has been granted two slots and are expected to send a female and a male athlete to the Tokyo Games and Maria is keen on making her dream come true.
“My main objective is to make it to the Olympics next year. I have worked so hard just to achieve this feat and I believe I will make it during the Kenya national team qualifiers,” she said.
Kenya was to hold the national qualifiers in April but the event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Maria will battle another top Kenyan swimmer Emily Muteti for the sole women’s slot as national team captain Abdallah Issah and Danilo Rosafio face off for the men’s spot.
And after jetting arriving from her seven-year stay in Germany, Maria said there’s no time to rest as she aims at emulating her idol, Kenya’s Jason Dunford.
The 20-year-old is upbeat of equaling, if not surpassing Dunford’s records, which include winning gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, Universiade, All-Africa Games and African Championships.
Dunford also qualified for the finals at the Olympics, World Championships and Short Course World Championships.
“I am still young and full of energy. Furthermore, I am now back in the country and I can now focus on swimming after juggling between school and swimming for the past seven years, which was not easy,” she said.
She believes her seven-year sports scholarship at the elite sports school, Sportschule Potsdam in Germany will play a big role in her achieving her dreams.
“I know it won’t be easy considering Dunford’s legendary exploits in the pool in the freestyle category but I believe in myself and if I can concentrate and work hard to improve my style, nothing is impossible,” she said.
Born in Mombasa, the lastborn born in a family of three, Maria started swimming when she was eight, at Mombasa Academy.