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Baldus-Strauss: Michigan Gymnastics' Comeback Kid

Anna Schulte/Daily
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BY MATT SPELICH
For the Daily
Published January 18, 2011

Ben Baldus-Strauss, as a gymnast at Michigan, sustained five career-interrupting injuries in the past three years including multiple stress fractures — a broken left ankle, a torn MCL and a broken thumb, which he sustained mid-skill at the NCAA Championships last year. But even with the break, he managed to not only finish the routine, but he also won the round.

It was later revealed that Baldus-Strauss’s contribution had put the Wolverines just over the top to win their first NCAA title in 11 years. He celebrated that night with his arm in a sling — something he was all too used to as "the comeback kid."

And to think, Baldus-Strauss almost gave it all up after an ankle displacement he suffered at the NCAA Preliminaries his freshman year.

“I was seriously questioning whether or not I was going to be able to come back,” Baldus-Strauss said. “My parents advised me to consider quitting the team … but I just couldn’t let it go, I couldn’t leave my teammates, so I just pushed through it.”

“Pushing through it,” meant surgery a week later, crutches, and a walking boot for 12 weeks before Baldus-Strauss was able to begin physical therapy to prepare for the next season. On top of that, he continued to attend every practice in support of his teammates.

His recovery was not devoid of problems though. He ended up dropping out of his spring semester classes, and required assistance with even the most routine tasks — moving about the dining hall, walking to class and going upstairs to his room.

“It was a very dark time for me after my ankle injury … it changed my perception of the sport and how I viewed my body,” Baldus-Strauss said.

At his first comeback competition during his sophomore year, tragedy struck again. Balduss-Strauss partially tore his MCL after peeling off the high bar. His teammates and coaches were not sure what this meant for his future, but after five short weeks, he bounced back and went on to contribute to a team tie for the Big Ten Championship and second place in the NCAA Championship.

“Every major moment (in my career) has revolved around an injury,” Baldus-Strauss said. “I was happy to give my thumb to win an NCAA Championship — it was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Senior Devan Cote, Baldus-Strauss's roommate and best friend on the team, played a large role in helping him through his multiple recoveries. Cote believes that Baldus-Strauss’ first injury ended up helping him through the rest.

“Without experiencing that first injury he might not have pushed through (his championship routine) like he did,” Cote said. “Our team title would not have happened without Ben. He’s one of the most crucial members of the team and yet is not always recognized for it.”

Assistant coach Geoff Corrigan paints a similar picture of Baldus-Strauss.

“He’s a perfectionist, almost to a fault," Corrigan said. "He’s extremely dedicated, consistent, always on time and is always studying hard while other people are taking a break. He has a tremendous work ethic that he translates well into both school and gym.”

Now, Baldus-Strauss is taking some time off to rehab his shoulder, but is looking forward to making yet another comeback when the Wolverines face off against Illinois in February. In the meantime, he is working hard to get back in competing shape.

Corrigan is confident that Baldus-Strauss will be able to come back strong and make more strong contributions to the team — potentially to yet another title shot.

“It’s going to be more difficult than last year," Corrigan said. "(Our competition) has more experience and more depth than last year, but the team that can pull it all together at the right moment will be the team to beat, so we’re working toward that every day.”