For most athletes, getting hurt means sitting out.
But for freshman Ben Baldus-Strauss, it meant learning to do floor exercise on just one good arm.
After sustaining a mysterious injury on the pommel horse in November, Baldus-Strauss’s right wrist was useless for more than a month. Even with multiple X-rays and an MRI, doctors weren’t sure what was wrong and eventually just immobilized the wrist. Baldus-Strauss, normally an all-arounder, couldn’t practice pommel horse, rings, parallel bars or high bar, all of which require both arms for support.
One-handed floor routines were his only option, and he poured all his energy and focus into the event – with the occasional one-handed vault thrown in for good measure.
“He was doing things he had never done on two hands, on one hand,” sophomore Evan Heiter said.
Baldus-Strauss performed one-handed in the floor exercise in the Maize and Blue intrasquad, but never in the regular season.
Once he could use both arms again, Baldus-Strauss made his season debut at Oklahoma and then made major contributions in the team’s win at Iowa, Feb. 2. After a somewhat shaky first meet, he provided counting scores on pommel horse and high bar against the Hawkeyes.
The pressure was on in Iowa City – Baldus-Strauss performed later in event lineups, often after multiple teammates had missed their sets. And many family members, including his parents, were there to watch.
“It’s a lot different when you’re later on and you know you have to hit,” Baldus-Strauss said. “I felt really good on the bar, just because I knew I had to hit.”
His high bar routine, one of the few clean ones in the meet, was one of the keys to Michigan’s win. Since then, Baldus-Strauss has become a regular contributor in the floor, pommel horse and high bar lineups.
While many in the gymnastics community may have overlooked Baldus-Strauss, instead focusing on his prominent classmates, Thomas Kelley and Chris Cameron, his teammates noticed the quiet freshman’s talent from day one.
“He’s probably one of the most talented people we have in here,” junior Joe Catrambone said. “If you tell him to try a new skill, he’ll master it on the first try.”
Baldus-Strauss’s impressive drive for perfection extends to his schoolwork. If you can’t find him on weekends, junior Scott Bregman advised, just look for him in the Law Quad.
His diligence has paid off – in his first semester at Michigan, he earned a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Growing up in Wheaton, Ill., Baldus-Strauss tried “every sport under the sun,” including tennis, tee-ball, football and ice hockey. But something finally clicked for the seven-year-old as he watched men’s gymnastics during the 1996 Olympics.
He signed up for gymnastics classes that day and never looked back.
“We just happened to have a gym five minutes from our house,” Baldus-Strauss said. “It’s probably the best decision I ever made.”
His teammates would second that.
“I think he really stayed under the radar in terms of being one of those big-name, bells-and-whistles recruits,” Heiter said. “But in the end, he’s one of our most talented guys and he could easily be an All-American many times by the time his career is over.”