Photo by Allyssa Hynes/Nebraska Communications

Patience Pays Dividends For Brink

By Brian Rosenthal

Who better than a gymnast to rely on strength and patience during tedious times?

As much as Heather Brink relied on those attributes in becoming an 11-time All-America gymnast at Nebraska, she depended on them even more throughout a long period that eventually landed Brink her dream job.

Head women’s gymnastics coach at Nebraska.

Brink, named interim coach in October after serving seven season as an assistant, accepted the permanent title on Friday.

A Lincoln native who grew up a Husker fan in all sports imaginable, Brink entered the business field after graduating from Nebraska in 2001. She thought that’s where her career path would lead her.

Brink didn’t need long to realize she wasn’t cut out for the business setting.

That drove her passion to return to gymnastics. She began teaching classes in Arizona, then coached more competitive teams and optional programs. And when Nebraska coach Dan Kendig searched for an assistant to replace Rhonda Foehn to begin the 2002-03 season, Brink applied.

“Dan thought maybe I was too young, or too close to the kids’ ages,” Brink said in explaining Kendig’s decision to instead hire Danna Durante, who would stay at Nebraska the next nine seasons. “But I think at that point, I knew this is really what I wanted to do.”

Brink remained coaching club gymnastics in Arizona until she and her husband, Jon, decided to start a family and move back to Lincoln. She returned to the business field while also assisting with Nebraska School of Gymnastics and helping Kendig’s program as a volunteer at meets, operating as a floor manager.

While re-ignited to coach gymnastics full time, Brink deep down wondered: Would this ever really come to fruition? Maybe the timing would never be right. Maybe this wasn’t meant to be.

“That’s kind of like how my life has always been,” Brink said. “Sometimes, I have these big, huge lofty goals, and sometimes I have to be patient to wait out my turn, and wait for my opportunity.”

Brink’s steadfastness paid dividends. When Durante left to become head coach at Georgia, Kendig asked Brink to apply for the vacant assistant coaching job on his staff. Brink joked she couldn’t go through the process again unless she knew she’d be hired.

Which, of course, she was.

“When Dan originally hired me as an assistant coach,” Brink said, “that was always a goal of mine, and a conversation Dan and I had … that eventually I could have this opportunity to take the reins and continue to move on.”

Kendig mentored her. He prepared her. It’s not like she wasn’t prepared, as a seven-year assistant, to assume a bigger role.

Still, when Kendig suddenly retired in October …

“When you get kind of thrown a curveball in the middle of the season,” Brink said, “it doesn’t really give you a lot of opportunity to plan and prepare as much as maybe I would have liked to.”

As a student-athlete under Kendig, Brink permanently etched her name in the Nebraska record books by winning two national titles at the 2000 NCAA Championships. Brink was the first Husker woman gymnast to win an NCAA all-around national title and the second to win a vault national title, leading the Huskers to a fourth-place national finish in 2000. She also finished her career with six regional titles and eight conference crowns.

With Brink as an assistant coach the past seven seasons, Nebraska finished either first or second in the Big Ten five times and reached the NCAA Super Six finals in 2014 and 2018. During Brink's time on staff, 11 Nebraska gymnasts have earned a combined 41 All-America awards, including Taylor Houchin and Grace Williams in 2018.

“Returning to collegiate gymnastics gave me an opportunity to re-learn how to love the sport in all facets – the process and the grind and the struggle," Brink said. "Obviously, I left on a high for me, and I want to give back that same feeling to the girls. I want this experience to be something that goes way above what they expect, but in a very fun and rewarding way.”

Brink aims to continue Nebraska’s strong tradition that Kendig help establish over 20 years, but in her own style. She inherits a team of newcomers and new contributors. She’s enjoyed seeing them make the most of their opportunities while understanding they have the same goal, the same heart, in helping the team overall.

“When you have a team who has heart, they will outperform any team of talent who doesn’t have heart.” Brink said. “This team is so talented, so much more prepared than any other team I’ve been a part of this early on in the season. Now, it’s just to get that heart going, right? Get the belief, the confidence.”

Brink conducted a phone interview late last week from her office, where she’d been watching the move “Miracle,” the 2004 sports docudrama about the United States men’s hockey team the upset Russia to win the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. She was going to have her team watch the movie on its weekend road trip to Michigan, the Huskers’ first meet with Brink as official new head coach.

“It’s interesting to watch it," Brink said, "and see this current state of everything and how it parallels the meaning of this movie.”

Brink’s biggest focus now is to push her team to maximize its potential throughout the final 10 weeks of the season leading into the NCAA Championships in April.

“I have really high expectations of my kids. I think I have the ability to be able to see those expectations in the kids,” she said. “Sometimes it’s challenging to get them to see those expectations, or that that they’re capable of reaching those expectations.

“But to me, it makes me so happy to see them get above of what they thought they were capable of, and then they look at you like, ‘Oh my God, I did something I didn’t even think was possible.’ That’s been really special for me.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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