Fascinated with competitive swimming and filmmaking, Ball State University graduate student Brian Tremml found a way to combine his two passions and help others at the same time.

He and his colleagues created the independent film documentary “The Water is My Sky,” which focuses on three competitive swimmers: Olympian Tom Wilkens; Connor Jaeger, a former U.S. National Team member and Olympian; and high school standout Taylor Garcia.

Some of the proceeds from a premium 10-day premiere of the documentary were given to a collection of 55 swim clubs around the country. That special premiere, which was held May 21-31, 2021, raised over $7,000, mostly for youth swim clubs. And, since then, swim clubs have been offered “screeners” so their leaders can show the documentary to groups of youth swimmers.

“The Water is My Sky” is also available for rental or purchase on AppleTV, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Youtube Premium. Watch the trailer for free.

“‘The Water is My Sky’ is less of a biography and more of a glimpse into the world of elite swimming, through these three swimmers,” said Mr. Tremml, the documentary’s director and one of the three producers.

A collegiate competitive swimmer during his undergraduate years at the University of Iowa—where he earned his film degree—Mr. Tremml knows that sports can be a commentary on the human condition. He also knows that sports can offer an array of lessons about hard work and dedication, handling success and failure, and finding resiliency when it’s needed most.

Learning from An Unexpected Olympian

Tom Wilkens was the perfect choice as one of the documentary’s featured swimmers, Mr. Tremml explained, because of who this Olympian was as a competitor and is as a person. As such, Mr. Wilkens was the predominantly featured swimmer of the three highlighted in the film.

“If you look up Tom Wilkens, and you’d never heard of him before, the first thing that would come up is that he was an Olympian. He won a bronze medal,” Mr. Tremml explained. “But the reality is that he did not start out at that level. He was not a record-breaking swimmer. As a kid, he was always classified as being smaller than others. But he had this natural love for working hard and competing. He always tried to outwork his competitors. So, that was what resonated with me: he was someone who ended up at the Olympic level that was never a natural-born talent or star.”

But, despite any perceived shortcomings, “that’s not to say that Tom didn’t have some talent in the water.”

“It’s a combination,” Tremml continued. “His story kind of shows that it’s not where you start, it’s where you can potentially end up if things break certain ways for you. The foundation is built with dedication and hard work.”

The “ups and downs” to Mr. Wilkens’ story, Mr. Tremml explained, are “representative of what a lot of swimmers like myself go through over the course of a career.”

“It can be filled with a lot of success and a lot of failure. And Tom’s story had a lot of very visceral examples of both of those,” Mr. Tremml said. “I think he gleaned a lot of life lessons through his sport that are just really compelling, and are widely applicable.

“It was also how he bounced back from disappointment and was able to be resilient. The message, in my mind, is about appreciating the process—even though it may be filled with lots of ups and downs.”

Pursuing his Passion, Following his Dreams

Mr. Tremml and his colleagues began making the documentary in 2013, but there were occasional breaks in the filming. Among the reasons for delays was the wait for the swimmers to be in competitions, getting the film crews to the locations where the swimmers are, getting access to Olympic footage—and the rights to use that footage.

By the time he arrived at Ball State a few years ago for his graduate studies, Mr. Tremml’s  filmmaking team entered the post-production stage. All of the footage was shot and a rough edit was completed. But there was more work needed to shape the documentary into a cohesive story. Also, there was the process of getting music written for the film, adding sound effects, and addressing the finer polishing points to get the documentary ready for release.

The documentary was finally supposed to premiere in May 2020, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After all the trials and tribulations, however, Mr. Tremml has been pleased with the film’s reception.

“We held our public release onto Video-on-Demand platforms on July 27, during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The release was met with an incredibly positive reception,” he said. “During our first week, we appeared in the Top 10 rankings on the iTunes Documentary chart as a best-seller.”

After seeing his dream of making a documentary come true—and helping others in the process—Mr. Tremml is ready to make his other dreams a reality. He is approximately one semester away from completing coursework on the two Master’s degrees he is pursuing at Ball State. One degree is in Sport & Exercise Psychology; the other is in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

“My plan is to work with the general population—specializing in working with athletes—on the mental components that make up peak performance, and on general mental health concerns,” he said. “My work will be the intersection of what elements of the mental approach go into performing at your best, and providing clinical support to deal with any number of issues (such as anxiety or depression) not related to performance.

“Yes, you can say that this is also a passion of mine.”

Updated on December 19, 2022.

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