Kylie Kruger does not have to look far for inspiration. All the Glenbrook South junior gymnast has to do is look around her house, where her grandmother, Sandy, resides.
Grandma Sandy has undergone four open-heart surgeries.
Talk about toughness and resiliency.
“She’s a fighter,” Kruger, a third-year varsity member, said after the Chester Jones Evanston Invitational on Jan. 7. “An amazing tennis player, with a great serve.”
Kruger’s best weapon as a recreational tennis player is her two-handed backhand.
But the only grip that mattered for Kruger last weekend was the one she used to work her uneven bars routine. The Titan found her groove while negotiating the apparatus, scoring a seventh-place 8.65. The mark ranked second among teammates to Glenbrook South senior star Hannah Hartley (second place, 9.275).
“Nobody works harder than Kylie does,” Titans girls gymnastics coach Steve Gale said. “She’s a workhorse every day in practice. When she’s doing a cardio workout [in the school’s fitness center], she’s an animal, a machine. I’ve seen her, while I’m getting in a workout. At practices, Kylie likes to say to me, ‘I’m throwing [a double-back dismount on bars]. Get in there.’
“I get in there for her, as a spotter.”
It was on bars where Kruger made an immediate impact at a sectional meet in her freshman season. Gale slotted Kruger to perform first on bars for the Titans.
The Titans’ first event at the sectional in 2015?
Kruger nailed the routine, setting an ideal tone for her teammates and helping the squad secure the meet title and automatic state berth.
Moments later, Kruger experienced darkness.
Her teammates had swarmed her for hearty embraces. Brief suffocation never felt so good.
Glenbrook South finished eighth at the state meet more than a week later.
“An amazing teammate, and Kylie is so nice,” said senior captain Katie Wahl, who is nursing a couple of injuries. “She’s a hard worker, and she’s dedicated. Sometimes our coach gives us a window to show up for practice, like between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. It’s not unusual for Kyle to beat Gale to practice.
“Her double-back dismount on bars,” Wahl added, “is more consistent this year; she’s finding the floor with her feet more, sticking her landings. And her standing-back [on beam] … she doesn’t fall. She never falls. I’ve never seen her fall when she does her standing-back.”
Kruger attributed the emphasis on repetition at her former club, Niles-based Viking. Gymnasts had to successfully execute 10 straight standing-backs before moving on to the next drill, she noted.
Kruger joined American Academy in Wheeling two months ago, just before the start of the high school season. Many of her American Academy cohorts competed at the Evanston Invite last weekend. In between Glenbrook South’s third and fourth events, Kruger, with her hands on her knees, watched intently as an American Academy gymnast — competing for another school — performed a floor exercise.
Kruger shouted encouraging words and cheered for the “opponent” throughout the routine.
“Look at her,” Gale said. “Kylie is all about the sport of gymnastics, no matter who’s doing a routine. She’s intense and supportive, and if you were to tell her to have an easy workout, it wouldn’t happen. There’s never a bad day in gymnastics, as long as Kylie is around.”
Kruger finished 10th in the all-around (33.675) at last weekend’s 11-team invite. Her highest mark was 8.65 (bars), her lowest 8.075 (vault). Steady. The highlight of her 8.55 routine on beam was her save following a flip-flop series. The 5-foot-1 Kruger nearly fell off the log before righting herself nimbly and concentrating on her next move.
In the spring, look up if you’re interested in seeing Kruger compete in her other sport, track and field. The Titan gave pole vaulting a try last spring and honed her launching game at an Olympic training center last summer in California. She cleared eight feet last spring. A double-digit feat appears achievable in 2017.
But her sights now are set on the big gymnastics meets in late January and in early February, as well as doing what she can to help the Titans set a program scoring record. The mark sits at 145.55; this year’s season-high score thus far is 145.375.
Life after gymnastics for Kruger could find her in a classroom, as a special education teacher. As a peer mentor at Glenbrook South, she has guided special education students in PE classes. Kruger pays them undivided attention and espouses the benefits of teamwork.
Teamwork talk — from the consummate teammate.
Somewhere in the Kruger household in Glenview is a proud grandma, bursting with wholehearted pride.
Notable: Titans senior Hannah Hartley topped the all-around field (37.7) at the Evanston Invite on Jan. 7 and finished in the top four in each of the four events. She silvered on beam (9.3) and on bars (9.275) and placed third on vault (9.7) and fourth on floor (9.425).
Junior teammate Bebe Haramaras also excelled, bettering all on beam (9.475) and taking seventh in the all-around (35.325). Glenbrook South’s Sarah Healy added a fifth-place effort on vault (9.35).
The Titans competed without freshman standout Jenna Hartley, who was sidelined with an injury, and finished third (140.15) to runner-up Maine South (142.6) and champion New Trier (145.7).