It’s a family away from home
When Helen Kreuzer arrived in Florida in early January she was stunned. Instead of snow falling through the air like it was in Bensheim, her hometown in Germany, palm fronds swayed in the breeze. The 18-year-old was in a new city, Boca Raton, and embarking on new chapter of her life: college.
Though uncertain of what school would be like in the states, Kreuzer decided to move across the globe and attend Lynn University so she could study and play golf year-round for its women’s golf team.
Kreuzer joins a team of seven international athletes — who have become fast friends — led by 25-year-old coach Karli Heimbecker, one of the youngest head coaches in the National College Athletic Association’s history.
Heimbecker says that she believes the bonds the women on her team are developing is a key ingredient for the success of the golf program, which has won five national championships, including back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
Heimbecker attended the University of South Florida and played on its women’s golf team for four years. She had hopes of playing competitive golf after college, she says, but she knew she was not at the high level required from athletes to go pro.
But her passion for golf led her to explore other career options related to the sport. She says she was heavily influenced by her USF head coach, so when a position for assistant coach of Lynn’s golf team opened up, she applied and got the job in July 2015. Heimbecker was offered the head coach position in June 2016.
“The more experience I gained [as a head coach,] the more I enjoyed being in that role and having an impact on the girls I was coaching,” she wrote in an email.
The girls on her team hail from countries around the world, including Colombia, South Africa and Spain.
“With all of the members coming from outside of the United States, I think they each view the team as a family away from home and value the relationships that are being built,” she says.
Though she has only been in Boca for a few weeks, Kreuzer has already made good friends with the players on her team and those on the men’s golf team — with Heimbecker’s help in establishing ties.
“The most relaxing moment of the day is when we have ‘family’ dinner in the cafeteria with both golf teams, where everybody comes together, tells stories and just forgets about assignments, presentations or essays,” Kreuzer says.
Besides supporting the friendships developing on the green, Kreuzer says Heimbecker has also helped the team stay on track in its athletic goals.
“No matter when we meet her, on or off the course, Coach Karli is full of energy and positivity, which keeps everybody on the team motivated and in a cheerful mood,” she says.
Heimbecker says she has experienced a new side of the sport since becoming the head women’s golf coach last year.
“I often tell people that I finally realize what my parents must have felt like when they watched me compete as a young athlete,” she says. “You become the athletes’ biggest fan… their victory or losses becomes yours too.”
Although Heimbecker has fun being her athletes’ cheerleader — of sorts— on the course, there are also difficult aspects of her job.
“The hardest part about being a coach is overcoming the fear of making a mistake,” she says. “When you are in a head coach role, the platform is tremendous, and you are constantly looked at for guidance and advice.”
Though the pressure is high, Heimbecker says that staying true to her roots as a lifelong athlete has helped her overcome her fears, as well as her desire to serve the girls she cares about.
“To excel as a coach, you must realize the impact you are having on those you lead, and use it to positively affect their lives,” she says.
For Kreuzer in particular, who’s been adjusting to life in South Florida, Heimbecker’s strength and encouragement has not only made her feel welcomed to the award-winning team, but it has also helped the freshman become more confident.
“I am really inspired by her… staying positive on the course, and improving my mental game is definitely something that can help me to become a better athlete,” Kreuzer says.
The golf season is in full swing at Lynn, and the Fighting Knights are currently practicing to play at the World Golf Invitational in Saint Augustine on February 5 and 6. They are also excited to compete at other tournaments this spring.
“Doing well as a team, making improvements, and seeing hard work pay off is what motivates us to keep putting forth the effort, and what pushes the student-athletes to achieve all they can with what they’ve been given,” Heimbecker says.