Bill Mueller is accustomed to the kidding when he pedals about on a unicycle, from people making imitations of the clown music from a circus calliope to comments such as, “Hey buddy — you lost your other wheel!”
“I tell them my first wife got half of everything in the divorce,” said Mueller, who goes by the nickname “Rhino” and graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2004 with a marketing degree.
But Mueller’s upcoming unicycle expedition isn’t a joking matter. His “One God, One Wheel, One Country” ride from Seattle to Key West, which he hopes to start July 4, is to raise awareness for Disabled American Veterans and the Firefighters Burn Fund.
Unicycling to help the burn fund, which assists not only firefighters injured in the line of duty but any victim of serious burns, is just another tribute Mueller can add to the legacy of his older brother Gary, a retired Cape Coral firefighter who was paralyzed from the chest down after a freak accident at home. He also has another older brother, Dennis, a retired fire chief who originally turned Bill on to unicycling several years ago, who suggested the burn fund as one of the journey’s beneficiaries.
“I never served in the military, but I can’t think of a more deserving group for charitable help than veterans who get hurt in the line of duty,” said Mueller, who acknowledged the support that FGCU gives veterans by sending us a photo with his unicycle and a copy of the Fall 2016 edition of FGCU360 Magazine, which featured a cover story on the university’s programs for active-duty military and those who served.
Mueller’s first unicycle-powered fundraiser in 2011, a 100-mile ride in Georgia, was to raise money for a specially equipped van for Gary. Sadly, Gary Mueller died just two months after Bill bought him his van.
Now, six years later, the unicyclist with a big heart is answering the call of a new charitable mission — a 4,300-mile sojourn he plans to make over 100 days of pedaling at about 10 mph. It inspired the native Californian to resign from his job as general manager of an Applebee’s in his adopted home region near Atlanta, and begin a campaign for sponsorships that will help him pedal from the Space Needle in the great Northwest to Sloppy Joe’s in the deepest South.
“I’m working on corporate sponsorships, and depending on how things go, I hope to start from Seattle on the Fourth of July,” he said. “I need to make sure I have enough money to complete the mission. I’ve been praying about this for a long time, and I feel this is the time to do it.”
Since resigning from his job as a restaurant manager, Mueller has been using his handyman skills to do some side work — the same skills that came into play while he was working on a master’s in business administration at FGCU in 2004 when his life was blown in another direction, literally, after Hurricane Charley struck Southwest Florida that August.
“I had so much work repairing pool screens with my Rhino Contracting business that I ended up quitting graduate school,” Mueller said. “It was crazy.”
Eventually, the man who has traveled as far as 120 miles in a day balancing atop a 36-inch wheel using his legs as brakes — sometimes while simultaneously showing off his other talent, playing the saxophone — hopes to make fundraising a career. “For this ride, I’m not collecting money directly for the charities, but trying to raise awareness for them,” Mueller said. “I’m asking people to go directly to the websites to contribute.”