Menomonee Falls Swim Club head coach Scott Mueller always likes a challenge.
The former individual state champion and 2000 state swimmer of the year of the powerhouse Homestead teams of 1998-2001, has been an All-American at Texas A&M, a financial adviser and got to be in a movie with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.
Yes, he was also an actor.
"I got my degree in finance in 2004 and went to the Olympic Trials then," Mueller said. "It was in the 200 (meter) IM. It wasn't my greatest time but still a cool experience.
"I came back up here and worked at Wells Fargo for three months and I heard about a movie they were shooting called 'The Guardian' (with Costner and Kutcher). They were looking for swimmers, swimmers and more swimmers. I gave it a try and I got called back."
"It turned into a speaking role and there were about 10 of us and we all got lines. I thought it would be a one-shot deal but I also got small roles in (the critically acclaimed TV show) 'Friday Night Lights' and some commercials."
But the klieg lights and the fleeting fame weren't quite enough for Mueller, so he stepped into another challenge.
"It was fun, but I wanted to be closer to my family and I wanted some consistency," he said. "The finance work (what his degree is in) was kicking in and I wanted to do something else.
"So I landed the Falls head coaching job about four years ago and that's where I found my passion. … I know there isn't as much money in it but it's what I love doing. I wanted to do something I love because life is just too short to do otherwise."
He and his father have their own financial advising business.
Passion for swimming
But, as noted, the passion for swimming burns bright in him and includes channeling some of the inner competitor.
"We don't have a lot of senior guys (on the team), so I sometimes swim them directly (to provide inspiration as well as teach technique)."
That was noticed by others on the team, including Kate Criter of Plymouth, who drives an hour a day down to Falls to train with the team. Criter, a WIAA state champion and record-holder in the 100 breast stroke and a Wisconsin recruit, had qualified for the Olympic Swim Trials in the breast stroke and gently teased her coach that he should give that a try.
"Here she had qualified (for the Trials) and she started giving me a hard time about it," Mueller said. "So I decided to see if I could make it, too."
Mueller, as noted, was still reasonably fit, but he knew he would have to take that up a notch if he was to make the qualifying cut in the 50 freestyle, the event he felt he could reasonably have a chance at.
"So I kept swimming and lifting weights," he said.
There would be about four meets where he would have the opportunity to make the cut. He missed it at a meet at Purdue University.
"I think I was the oldest guy in that race by about 10 years," laughed the 30-year-old.
Then came a meet at the Schroeder Aquatic Center in Brown Deer.
"I tried it earlier in the meet (it was a multiday event) and I missed it by about 0.2 of a second," he said. "Then on Sunday, basically swimming all by myself in the heat, I finally made it by about 0.11 (with a time of 23.38).
"I knew I had done it when I hit the wall. The feeling was indescribable. I knew I could do it, but it was tough. So I continued swimming hard with a small training group a few days a week."
That led to last month's Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., where he and Criter sought to make their marks.
Neither was under any illusions of making the Olympic team (only the top two in each race do), but Mueller knew there were a lot of guys like him out there at the Trials, looking for something to put on their life résumé, as well as kindle one more small flame of competitive fire.
Sets realistic goal
"All I really wanted to do," he said, "was stay close to my (qualifying) time and be in the top five of those 30 and older."
And as it worked out, he got both goals. There were 167 athletes competing in the 50 free and he wound up fifth among those 30 and older and his time was only about 0.2 off his qualifying effort.
"We had a small group and when we went down there, it was nothing like any swim meet I was ever at before. They had a Jumbotron and flames shooting out of the deck."
"It was like they had dropped a pool into the Bradley Center."
And the intensity of the meet was something else, too, he said.
He got in the water in a hurry, got out in a hurry and had earned the life résumé item that he had wanted.
In doing so, he had something to take home to the swimmers on his team.
"Now I have even more stories to tell them when I want to get them motivated," he said.
"Maybe they'll have their own (Trials) stories to tell."
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