Joel Demuth serves on land and water

Bentley Demuth

Joel Demuth found his passion for the Reserve Officer Training Corps after attending a swim camp at the home of the U.S. Military Academy. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Joel Demuth is a Division I athlete — a swimmer — and an ROTC cadet, a rare combination.

He first made a connection between the two pursuits at age 10, when he attended a swim camp at West Point, N.Y., home of the U.S. Military Academy.

“Seeing all that [military] stuff at a young age piqued my interest,” Demuth (pronounced “d’-mewth”) said. “I thought the whole Army thing was cool.”

As a UIC student, he was interested in the Reserve Office Training Corps, but “I never thought I would have time for it because of my swimming,” he said.

When he approached ROTC officials at the beginning of his sophomore year, “they said we can work around that.”

It will require a fifth year of school — he’s a junior now — that’s all ROTC, no swimming. Both programs provide Demuth with a scholarship, so between them, he has a full ride.

He swims freestyle at distances of 50, 100 and 200 yards. UIC’s team was 6-4 in dual meets last season, with Demuth winning eight first-place finishes.

At the conference meet, he won the 100 free and placed third in both the 50 free and 200 free. With him leading off, his relay team won the 400 free.

Demuth also swims in Puerto Rico, where his mother was born, in competitions organized by the Puerto Rico Swimming Federation. Last May, he finished third in one race and second in two others.

“The guy that beat me went to the Olympics,” he said.

Demuth will race in Puerto Rico again this May.

“In July, there are Central American and Caribbean championships they want me to compete in,” he said.

While attending Naperville North High School, Demuth coached swimming and water polo for park district teams.

He swims 20 hours a week — “The NCAA says you can do 18, but I do extra on my own,” he said — and lifts weights for three to four hours.

He played lacrosse from age 10 to 15, and water polo from 13 to 18.

“After playing lacrosse and swimming my freshman year of high school, I really had to make a choice to commit to one sport or the other, or else I was not going to be able to excel at both,” he said.

“As much fun as lacrosse was — and I was pretty good — I decided to go with swimming.”

He realized he’d made the right choice at his first state meet junior year.

“Walking on the pool deck and seeing hundreds of swimmers walking around and warming up, it felt like I was a professional,” he said.

“It was awesome. And then swimming in front of hundreds of screaming fans was a very exhilarating feeling.

“I feel more comfortable with a Speedo on than I do with any other clothing. The pool is where my heart is.”

Demuth lived in Naperville until he was 9. The family moved to New Jersey when his father got a job transfer, returning to Naperville when Demuth was 12.

Now he lives in an apartment near campus with two gymnasts and a track and field athlete.

After graduation comes military service. If he’s in the top 50 percent — his score determined by grade point average, Army physical fitness test and ROTC grades — he’ll spend the next four years on active duty with the Army.

If not, he’ll be attending monthly meetings in the Army Reserve or National Guard for eight years.

“My main interest in serving is the thought of being able to represent my country,” he said.

“I love that I’ll be out there serving my country in whatever way I’m needed.”

Demuth is majoring in criminology and may end up in the military police.

If he doesn’t choose a career in the military, he may go to grad school or get a job in the criminology field, anything from being a police officer to working for the Drug Enforcement Administration or FBI.

“Or I could definitely see myself pursuing a career as a collegiate swim coach if the opportunity came up,” he said.

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