It was a Thursday afternoon when Michigan men’s gymnastics coach Kurt Golder walked into his team meeting. He could barely keep it together, struggling to get the words out to his team. Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, all NCAA Division I sports had been canceled for the remainder of the season.
The announcement brought the entire room to tears. While the season’s sudden halt was a tough pill to swallow for every member of a team that had national championship aspirations, no one was more gutted than the seniors. For team captain Mack Lasker, the news was one that felt impossible to accept.
“It almost didn’t feel real to know that my college career was over,” Lasker said. “Just like that.”
It wasn’t just hearing the news in that moment that made Lasker so emotional. It was a lifetime of gymnastics that came screeching to an end.
Lasker’s introduction into the world of gymnastics came early in his life. At the age of two, he participated in gymnastics classes while attending Mommy and Me classes. While he enjoyed the sport and excelled at it, he never expected it to be a pathway to performing at a Division I level. That changed when he began receiving collegiate offers during his sophomore year of high school. From there, Lasker began to devote himself more to his craft.
“Sophomore year was a turning point for sure,” Lasker said. “That was the first time I really considered seriously the idea of continuing to do this at a collegiate level.”
Lasker’s main event was the pommel horse, which he soon began to focus on, largely due to his growth spurt in high school. He stands a towering 6-foot-3, far taller than the average gymnast.
“Being 6-(foot)-3 definitely helps out (with the pommel horse),” Lasker said. “I felt like the pommel horse was an event that suited my skill set really well, and early on I knew that’s what I wanted to specialize in.”
In his senior year of high school, he ultimately made the decision to attend Michigan, mere months after winning the pommel horse championship at the Junior Olympics. While he arrived on campus in the summer, Lasker says that he didn’t truly feel at home until he and his teammates attended their first football game together at Michigan Stadium.
“That was a moment where it really hit me for the first time,” Lasker said. “Being with these guys who I’d spent all of Welcome Week getting a chance to know for the first time and coming together with 110,000 people was surreal. It really felt like a ‘Welcome to Michigan’ type of moment.”
Lasker would have the opportunity to perform for an audience just a few short months later, kicking off a freshman campaign that saw him participate in every meet on the pommel horse, score a 14.00 in the Big Ten Finals and score a 12.45 in the NCAA Qualifiers. It became clear early on that the true freshman was ready to play a big role for the Wolverines.
In his sophomore season, Lasker qualified for the NCAA Event Finals, ultimately placing 33rd with a 12.996 on the pommel horse. His junior season saw him register four of the team’s top six pommel horse scores, including a 14.00 in the Big Ten team finals and a team-high 14.600 against Iowa. Michigan went on to win the Big Ten regular-season title that season, but Lasker and his team were ultimately unsatisfied with the result.
“To be able to get a ring and hang a banner was a surreal feeling,” Lasker said, “but we all still felt like our main focus was on winning a national championship.”
Lasker was named as team captain for his senior season, which featured a win over second-ranked Oklahoma. The Wolverines had failed to beat the Sooners in a dual meet since 2007. Led by Lasker’s 14.05 in the pommel horse event, though, the team was able to defeat one of the nation’s premier programs and earn a number two ranking of their own.
“They’d beaten us by 30 last year, which is crazy in gymnastics,” Lasker recalls. “But we were able to knock them off and move up to number two in the country. To knock off a team like that who had had our number the last few meets, it was amazing.”
Ultimately, Michigan will never know what it would or would not accomplish in the 2020 season. Without warning, Lasker’s quest for a championship and the remainder of his collegiate career were over.
Despite this, Lasker wants to continue to do his part in helping others to have the same experience he was able to for three-and-a-half seasons. Since last fall, Lasker has worked alongside Michigan’s athletics department, working on Marketing and Graphic Design projects to pitch recruits on becoming Wolverines.
“I love Michigan and everything our athletic department stands for,” Lasker said, “and I want to try and communicate that to our recruits and help give them the same experience.”
As he looks back on his career at Michigan, Lasker believes that his time as a student athlete has given him unique ways to practice and fine tune skills that will be important in the next chapter of his life, including time management, communication, working with others and finding success in high-pressure environments. He credits learning many of these skills to Golder, who he believes has been instrumental in his life both as an athlete on the mat and a human being off it.
“Kurt has been an incredible coach and mentor over the past few years of my life,” Lasker said. “He’s made me a better gymnast, always held me accountable and he’s helped to instill me with all the qualities that a Michigan man should possess. He’s helped me gain the skills to get me where I am today and continue to succeed after I graduate.”
Lasker hopes that these skills will one day help him obtain a job working for the FBI, as he has long desired to pursue a career that gives him a chance to make the world a better and safer place.
“When I was going through the recruiting process, I considered Army and Navy, and even though I didn’t go through with that there’s always been a part of me that kind of wishes I did,” Lasker said. “After college, I want to work somewhere that gives me a chance to help others and make the world a better place, and I think the FBI would be a really cool way to accomplish that.”