Not many athletes would give up the chance to swim for a nationally ranked and recognized team to come and swim for a program struggling to gain national prominence.
But if coming to an unheralded program means having the opportunity to swim with your brothers and other high-quality athletes, then Mike Mullen, a 6-2, 185 business-finance/pre-dental major has come to the right place.
As a 10-year-old kid, Mullen made his first splash in a pool, although it wasn't the kind of splash a future All-American would have wanted.
"The first time I got in a pool, they made me swim with the little kids because I was so terrible," Mullen said.
"During summer league, this girl and I were paired up to do a relay. When she found out I was on her team, she started to cry because she knew we would lose."
As a freshman at Eastwood High School in El Paso, Texas, Mullen had no intention of swimming, but a friend of his swam and really enjoyed it, so he encouraged Mullen to give it a try.
"I went and told the coach my times and he just laughed and blew me off, but told me I could come and try out."
Mullen tried out and made the team. He steadily improved his times and by the end of the season he had dropped 10 seconds off his times. Mullen is glad he persevered and continued swimming.
Although Mullen's coach, Steve Flato, blew him off, Mullen said Flato has been one of the most influential figures in his life.
"He (Flato) always kept pushing me and made me look to the next level," explained Mullen. "He strived for excellence and instilled in me the desire to be the best I can be."
Mullen was so successful his junior and senior years of high school that he was recruited by some of the best swimming programs in the nation. He was a 10-time regional champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and as a member of the 200 and 400 free relay teams. As a senior, he was a four-time All-American in the same events and his times were among the top-10 in the nation.
Despite being recruited by national powers such as Texas, Texas A & M, USC, TCU, Missouri and even BYU, Mullen decided to attend Arizona State University.
"They had a really good program and were ranked in the top-10," Mullen said. "I wanted to have the opportunity to swim with Olympians and world-record-holders."
Mullen's swimming success continued at Arizona State. As a freshman, he was a PAC-10 champion as the anchor of the 200 free relay team and was an NCAA All-American, finishing fourth at the NCAA's in the 200 free relay at Minnesota with a time of 1:18.32 and a personal split of 20.08. Members of that team were Francisco Sanchez, Felipe Delgado, Craig Hutchinson. Sanchez was the 50 and 100 world short-course champion. He also garnered individual accolades as a finalist in both the 50 and 100 free at the PAC-10 Championships.
Winning the 200 free relay at the 1997 PAC-10 Championships is Mullen's most vivid memory of a victory.
"It was such a great moment because I swam on a relay team with Olympians and world-record-holders," he recalls. "I was the weak link, yet I anchored the relay."
What would Mullen do for an encore his sophomore season at ASU? Nothing, his sophomore season at ASU would never happen.
Mullen decided to serve a two-year LDS Church mission to Cali, Columbia and would not return to ASU. He said swimming helped him on his mission because swimming taught him perseverance and determination.
"I had to keep going and get past the obstacles, just like in swimming, when you need to reach that next level."
While on his mission, one of Mullen's close friends died of cancer. The death of his friend proved to be a strong motivating influence for Mullen.
"Our families grew up together and I got really tight with him right before my mission," explained Mullen. "When he died, it made me realize how grateful I am for the life I have and for the able body I have. That is something that really motivates me."
Another source of inspiration for Mullen comes from quotes.
"They (quotes) inspire me. I like to see what has inspired others to be better," Mullen said. From his collection of quotes, Mullen said his favorite quote is by C.S. Lewis: 'The pain now is part of the happiness later.' "I can apply that quote to swimming and life. The harder it is now, the better it will be later," he said.
After his mission, Mullen decided to not return to ASU, but to come to BYU. He was impressed by the quality of the team members at BYU, and the standards they had.
"I enjoy being around upstanding people, even if they aren't as fast as swimmers," Mullen explained. "I'm grateful to be here."
But more importantly, Mullen wanted to come to BYU to have the opportunity to swim with his brothers, Kurt and Ryan. His youngest brother Ryan is on the swim team with him this year and his younger brother Kurt swam for BYU as a freshman before leaving to serve an LDS mission to the Philippines.
Kurt was on the BYU-record-setting 800 free relay team in 1999 as a freshman and was the first Mullen to commit to BYU Coach Tim Powers after placing second in the state of Texas.
"Kurt was one of my best friends growing up, and I look forward to swimming with him next fall when he returns from his mission," Mullen said.
If younger brother Ryan holds true to plan, he will leave next year on his mission, so all three siblings won't compete together at the same time for BYU.
"I've always looked up to them (his brothers) for the quality of life they have and the decisions they make," explained Mullen, about why his brothers have been so influential to him.
For now, Mullen, a sophomore, is content being an integral member of BYU's swim team.
"I want to lead the team to national prominence," Mullen said. "I am ready to take BYU to the next level."
Coach Powers remembers being excited when Mike Mullen committed a year ago last November to come to BYU. Mike had written Powers, who got a courtesy NCAA release from Arizona State and then began corresponding with Elder Mullen.
Mike actually enrolled at BYU last January, but redshirted because Powers didn't want to waste half a year.
"We are happy to have Mike in our program. He is a good team member who is always encouraging others at meets. He will make an immediate impact for our team.
"He is a good competitor. He is strong and a fighter. He is the kind of guy who will butt heads with you, but in sprint races there is no room for error."
The Mullens have helped BYU get off to a 7-0 dual record prior to hosting UNLV two days after Thanksgiving at 1 p.m. in the Richards Building.
Mike may not be at nationally ranked ASU, but Mullen knows he is in the right place.