Randy York's N-Sider
Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider
Randy's N-Sider Blog Archive
Randy's N-Sider Columns
One of Nebraska's two new assistant coaches would be the first to tell you the reason women's gymnastics is the most popular sport every four years during the Summer Olympics: Because talented athletes put themselves out there on the brink.
After countless hours of vaulting, flying above and in between uneven bars, balancing on a four-inch wide beam and choreographing unique combinations of tumbling with dance, flexibility, strength, power, endurance, timing and rhythm, fans can't help but be drawn in by the sheer grace the sport requires.
Heather Brink has been there and done all four of those events so well that she became the first Nebraska female to win an NCAA all-around national championship and became the second Husker to win a national title in vault. She also led NU to a fourth-place national finish and was selected as the Honda Award winner in 2000, representing the nation's top female collegiate gymnast.
That was 12 years ago. Three months ago, Brink gave birth to her second son, and Saturday night she'll be inside the Devaney Center instructing, strategizing and encouraging Nebraska's No. 8 team in the fine art of elegance, beauty, poise, confidence, dedication and focus.
"Heather's a perfect fit to be an assistant coach because she's a Husker," said Dan Kendig, Nebraska's two-time National Coach of the Year and eight-time Big 12 Coach of the Year. "She's lived in Nebraska most of her life. She's a former student-athlete here. She's an 11-time All-American here. This is her dream job and for our program, it's like finding that perfect recruit for the entire team. When you want someone to be here, and they want to be here, great things can happen. She's been nothing but a joy. She's done a terrific job because she's so pumped up each and every day. I just think she's a perfect fit because of all the passion she brings to the table."
Olympic Gold Medalist Has Important Message
Saturday night will be no different when the Huskers host No. 20 Washington, No. 22 Michigan and Southern Utah at the 22nd Master's Classic at the Devaney Center. Competition begins at 6 p.m., and Big Red fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness. For Brink, the importance of the evening goes beyond the competition, and that's why a friend and former Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast did a video message for this meet, giving Nebraska fans perspective on how a 34-year-old bald mother, wife and cancer survivor deals with chemotherapy and a never-ending physical and emotional battle with this silent killer.
Understanding that battle makes living on the brink fairly easy, and Nebraska's first-year assistant will never underestimate being the proud wife of a Lincoln police officer and a happy mother of a 5-year-old boy and his 3-month-old little brother. And now she's firmly in charge of Husker performances on the beam while assisting fellow new first-year assistant Dan Miller with floor choreography. She also helps Kendig with recruiting, travel accommodations and academics.
"Dan's right. This is my dream job," Brink said, explaining why she moved to Lincoln in 2006, so she could coach for the Nebraska School of Gymnastics after spending five years coaching with the Arizona Sunrays in Phoenix.
"I started gymnastics when I was 4 and competed all the way through college," Brink said. "When we moved back here, I dreamed of this job, but took another one (human resources management) at Ameritas because we knew how important seniority is when you become a police officer, and this is where we wanted to raise our children."
When Kendig's previous two assistants were offered head gymnastics coaching positions in the SEC and the Pac-12, Nebraska's longtime head coach found quality replacements. Brink fit one need and Miller another. He moved to Lincoln after serving 12 years as the owner and head coach of Arena Gymnastics in Joliet, Ill.
Dan Miller Brings Big Recruiting Ties to Job
"Like Heather, Dan's a perfect fit for us," Kendig said, "because we've moved to the Big Ten and most of the league takes place in Region 5, the top region year in and year out for JO (Jr. Olympic) Nationals. Dan is well respected in that region, so it can do nothing but help our recruiting efforts. I've known him for almost 30 years. He's a good coach with high energy and great motivational skills."
Brink and Miller have made the transition to Division I with ease and without fanfare. "I absolutely love working with student-athletes every day," Brink said. "I enjoy the energy, the enthusiasm and the competition."
It's hard, though, for a one-time NCAA all-around champion to forget the kinds of crowds Nebraska used to draw for gymnastics. "Our crowds would stand up and cheer and get behind us," Brink recalled. "It was an unbelievable feeling."
Brink wants that feeling to return as the Husker women reload from last year's No. 4 NCAA finish, the highest of any of Nebraska's 23 varsity sports in 2010-11.
The key to bigger crowds, according to Kendig, is getting fans to experience gymnastics for the first time. "It's such an enjoyable sport to watch," he said. "It's family friendly and gets the fans' respect once they see what these athletes can do."
Kendig's Strong Belief: Try It. You'll Like It
Kendig believes if Nebraska fans give gymnastics a try, they'll come back. "We have a team that's been working really hard and doing some great things," he said. "We left the Big 12 as conference champions, and our goal is to come into this league and win the Big Ten in our first year."
That's a tall order, of course, but one Brink embraces. She specializes in vault, an event predicated on quickness and explosiveness. She spent her young life perfecting a handspring that helped make her a national champion. Now she's coaching her alma mater and teaching young gymnasts how to tuck, pike, stretch, twist and flip after leveraging that "simple" little handspring.
The event starts and finishes in a matter of seconds, but takes countless hours to get where Heather Brink was. Now that she's back in Lincoln, she's fully immersed in helping others achieve their dreams.
Saturday's competition begins at 6 o'clock. You might want to get there a little early, so you don't miss the key message from Brink's friend and Olympic gold medalist. She'll help everyone in the building realize how important it is just to be there.
Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (include residence)