Twenty-two high schoolers lay down on the gym floor in two equal rows, heads touching toes. At the end of a line, one girl passed a volleyball from her feet to the feet of the boy next to her. Then an orange cone. Then a baseball.
The kids laughed when the baseball dropped and rolled all the way across the gym.
Miss Bruck smiled and told them to try again, but this time they weren’t allowed to swivel their bodies around to face each other.
Twenty minutes later, after more sweat and frustration, the bell rang, signaling the end of first hour. The kids went off to the locker rooms to change and attend other classes.
For the teacher, Michigan gymnast Lindsey Bruck, it’s also just the first class of the day. To fufill the student-teaching requirements for her physical education major, the fifth-year senior teaches several high-school physical education classes every week at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.
Bruck is currently working with two classes of students taking a required fitness class. Twice a week, the students work in the weight room, and the remaining days are spent in the classroom, regular gym or the gymnastics room at the school.
From 7:40 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Bruck organizes cooperative games and teaches personal fitness at the high school. Then she drives to gymnastics practice for the Wolverines, which usually lasts until 5:30 p.m. After that, she prepares for the next day’s classes.
“I’m usually in bed by 9:30,” Bruck said with a laugh.
At 5-foot-3, Bruck is shorter than many of the students she teaches. She has been stopped and asked to show a hall pass, like a regular high schooler. She had to convince the teacher that she was a student-teacher – and 23 years old.
But the second she walks into the gym, Bruck immediately assumes control her class. The students address her politely as Miss Bruck, listening to her every word.
From gymnastics circuits to cooperative games like the ball-passing exercise, Bruck has used creative methods to keep the students active and engaged. She uses her passion to make regular gym classes more interesting.
“I try to incorporate our conditioning program that we do (at Michigan) with them, just a modified version,” Bruck said.
A Natural Teacher
Bruck, a co-captain, has a special way of connecting with all kinds of people. From teammates to students, she forms easy relationships.
“Lindsey just has a natural ability to work well with the kids,” said Bonnie Pendleton, Bruck’s cooperating teacher at Pioneer. “She came in with a bright smile and was really welcoming to the kids. They gravitated to her right away.”
Pendleton said Bruck’s comfort level with the students has been impressive, pointing out that Bruck quickly learned everyone’s name.
The freshmen in her fitness class appreciate the enthusiasm she brings to the classroom and gym. Even though the students may not be excited about personal fitness, they enjoy being around her.
“I just love getting sweaty at 8 a.m.,” one freshman girl joked. “But seriously, she’s cool, fun and enthusiastic.”
Bruck tested her energy and patience earlier this winter, teaching physical education classes at Northside Elementary in Ann Arbor until about three weeks ago.
Her former students came to meets to watch Bruck compete for Michigan this season. After meets, you could easily locate her – she was the one surrounded by little kids waiting to take pictures with her.
“She’s wonderful with children,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “They love her, they respect her, and they listen to her. If you can find a group of kids that respect you enough to actually listen to you, that’s remarkable.”
Bruck has coached at Plocki’s summer gymnastics camps the past few summers, working with girls and boys aged 7 to 17.
And due to an unfortunate circumstance, she gained some teaching experience last year, too.
A Sideline Snapshot
Last year, Bruck got a preview of coaching college gymnastics – her career goal – after suffering an Achilles injury in the season-opening meet at West Virginia. She was forced to limit her contributions to the sidelines.
“It was a really difficult year for us in terms of injuries, and it was one of our finest years as a coaching staff in terms of keeping things afloat,” Plocki said. “I think she learned a lot from last year because of the perspective she was able to have – kind of a student-coaching type of a role.”
Bruck’s name might not have been on the official coaching roster, but she still made an impact. Bruck was like a coach, giving tips to gymnasts during meets and one-on-one instruction to help teammates improve.
“She just kept a great attitude, a great vibe and she never showed it when she was hurting inside because she wanted to be out there so bad,” sophomore Jordan Sexton said.
Bruck had surgery after the injury and rehabilitated during the season and summer. Though she knew in her heart she wanted to compete again as a Wolverine, she was also aware that the coaching staff had given away all of its scholarships for the 2008 season.
The Marietta, N.Y., native had to make a tough decision – to end her career or come back for a fifth year as a walk-on and pay full out-of-state tuition.
With loans and financial support from her mother and grandfather, the two-time All-American enrolled at Michigan for a final year and another chance to compete alongside her other “family.”
The fifth-ranked Wolverines have relied on Bruck’s leadership in competition and in the gym. Her natural ability to encourage others and teach younger gymnasts how to improve their sets has been invaluable to this squad.
“Coming in as a freshman, I can’t imagine what this year would be like without Bruck on the team,” freshman Kylee Botterman said. “She was very inviting and just made us feel welcome.”
The team bonded from the start of its season under what Plocki called “tremendous leadership,” and the Wolverines climbed up the national rankings throughout the season.
Bruck was one of Michigan’s two all-around gymnasts and has competed in all four events in every meet this season. Bruck won four all-around titles, was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week three times and set career-highs in vault (9.900) and uneven bars (9.925) this season.
Following the Big Ten Championships on March 29, Bruck was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. When her name was announced, her teammates screamed and gave her high-fives and hugs.
“We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Lindsey,” Plocki said. “Her commitment, her passion for the sport of gymnastics, what she has done this year is an inspiration to everyone else on our team.”
Bruck has been taking steps to reach her career goal of coaching college gymnastics, which combines her passion for the sport with her desire to teach others.
“She would be a great collegiate coach because having been a high level student-athlete herself, she gets it,” Plocki said. “She would have the right balance between knowing how hard to push and when to back off.”
Bruck plans to work at gymnastics camps this summer and put her name out there as she looks for an assistant coaching job. She won’t know about open positions until after Nationals, when coaches decide to leave programs.
But as Bruck’s final year spent teaching and competing in Ann Arbor comes to a close, she’s figured out her dream coaching job.
“Ultimately, I would love to end up back here at Michigan,” Bruck said. “I remember turning off of 94 onto State Street for the first time, and it felt like I had been here my whole life, like this was my home.”