Someone to Lean On

Feb. 15, 2010

By Scott Bregman, U-M Media Relations

Torrance and Justin Laury never thought they would have the chance to be teammates on the University of Michigan men's gymnastics team. After all, their age difference - five years - had always prevented it growing up. As Torrance, the younger of the Laury brothers, would be competing in his last Junior Olympic National Championships in May of 2006 as a high school senior in Battle Creek, Justin would be three weeks removed from his final NCAA Championships.

Or at least that is what Justin, the 2005 Big Ten all-around champion believed.

But life, as it often does, threw the eldest Laury a curveball.In the lead up to his senior season at Michigan, Justin sustained an injury to his knee that left him sidelined as a medical redshirt and denied him the chance to defend the all-around title he won during his junior season. Instead, it allowed him the opportunity to compete with his brother Torrance for one year.

"It was almost like fate, like it was supposed to happen that way," Justin said of the chance happening that gave him and his brother their opportunity to be teammates.

Different Animals
As I sat down with both brothers and Michigan head coach Kurt Golder, all three men told me the story of Justin and Torrance's high school club coach's summation of the brother's opposite personalities.

"He used to tell everyone that Justin is like an aggressive animal that you have to calm down and push back into a cage," Torrance said, remembering his coach's description. "I'm the one you have to kind of coax out."

When Torrance spoke about his brother, beyond his words, I could sense a deep revelry and respect for his brother, whom he described as `extremely naturally talented' and `more outgoing' than himself. Justin shared the same respect for his younger sibling, speaking slowly, carefully choosing just the right words to capture Torrance.

"Torrance just has a quiet confidence," Justin said. "He's very smart, intelligent.A hard worker and very focused in every aspect of his life."

"He showed me the ropes," Torrance recalled of his older brother during his freshman year. "It was nice having him around, nice to not feel so far away from home."

As Torrance made the often difficult transition from high school to Michigan student-athlete, learning to balance the responsibilities that come along with his new surroundings, the brothers leaned on each other. Justin was struggling to return to the form that had led to him to so much success at Michigan.

Justin Laury

"Having him was having someone to confide in," Justin said. "It was almost therapeutic for me; I was already having so many other issues with my injury."

The brothers support system would be put to the test at the first collegiate competition of Torrance's career, the 2007 Windy City Invitational, an annual competition that puts the Wolverines to an early test by going head-to-head with four of the five Big Ten schools with a men's gymnastics team.

The Wolverines were off to a rough start in the first rotation on the parallel bars. Michigan's first two competitors suffered falls on the apparatus, bringing Torrance and Justin up back-to-back. U-M needed strong routines in order to throw out the low scores of the first two competitors.

The brothers delivered. Big time. Torrance recorded a 9.300 to put the Wolverines back on track.Then, his older brother Justin did him one better, posting a 9.400 in his first performance since the end of the 2005 season and bringing the Wolverine faithful to their feet in Chicago. Michigan would go on to cruise to a victory at the meet and a number one national ranking, announcing a big return for a program that had failed to make the Super Six at the NCAA championships in 2006, the first time in seven years.

"In my tenure at Michigan, we could never put it together, and to work so hard in the off-season and come in at the first meet, which is pretty much like a miniature Big Ten Championships, and see ourselves in first place gave me so much hope for the season," Justin said looking back at the way the team for which he served as captain opened its season in Chicago.

The Wolverines, with the help of the Laury brothers, would finish the season fourth in the team final at the NCAA championships, a triumphant return for a team that had finished eighth a year earlier. Torrance continued to play a steady role, competing on three events in the team final; while Justin finally found his form at the end of the season, finishing his career at Michigan with a fourth-place tie in the all-around competition. In doing so, Justin became one of only three Wolverines to receive All-America honors in the all-around all four years of their career in the Kurt Golder era.

A Michigan Man in Houston
After graduating with a degree from the School of Kinesiology, Justin moved south to Houston, Texas, where he trained with U.S. national team coach Kevin Mazeika at the Houston Gymnastics Academy. While there, he struggled through injuries and frustration, nearly quitting the sport after proposing to his long-time girlfriend, Ashley, to start a life with her. But he decided to give it one more shot, competing in his final competition last summer, the 2009 VISA U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

"I learned a whole lot outside of gymnastics," said Justin of his time in Houston.

Following the Championships, where he placed 25th in the all-around, Justin moved back to Ann Arbor to be near his fiancé and began working at a nearby gym coaching women's gymnastics.After his wedding later this year, Justin plans to return to school and pursue a degree in physical therapy and continue to coach.

"I find a deep passion within myself for coaching and being able to impart to the girls all of the things I've learned through so many years of training," he said.

Role Reversal
Justin's return to Michigan means the brothers will once again be together for a Laury's senior season.

"It's kind of like the roles have reversed a little bit," Justin reflected on returning to Ann Arbor for his brother's last year of gymnastics. "He's kind of struggling now, and he's at the latter part of his career. To be back and to be able to hopefully be some kind of influence with him mentally to help him overcome [his struggles], it's kind of funny how it all worked out."

After his freshman year, Torrance began to struggle - plagued with injuries and searching for motivation. Coach Golder says it's difficult to figure out what's behind the slump for an athlete he says, "never cuts corners".Despite not making the lineup for post-season events in 2008 or 2009, he is still one of the hardest workers in the team's practices and hugely devoted to his team, according to Coach Golder.

Torrance's humility and team spirit are perhaps best understood through the retelling of his most memorable moments as a Michigan gymnast: the 2009 Big Ten and NCAA Championships meets he watched from the sidelines.

"Being Big Ten Co-Champions at home and then going on to have such a great competition at the NCAAs, being part of that was really amazing," Torrance said.

Yet, it is in the classroom where Torrance has made his biggest mark at Michigan.The senior biology major has won every academic honor available to him, including three College Gymnastics Association First Team Academic All-American honors.

After graduation, Torrance, who took the MCAT last summer, plans to move home and pursue an internship in the medical field while applying to enter medical school next year.

Until then, Torrance, who placed second in the all-around on Saturday, Feb. 13 in the No. 1 nationally ranked Wolverines' meet against UIC, will continue to be quietly going about his business, working as hard as he can in his last few months of gymnastics. And while Torrance's career at Michigan slowly winds down, Justin will be in the stands of Cliff Keen Arena as his biggest fan.

U-M Celebrates Black History Month