Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Heather Bruce, the wife of Nevada baseball coach T.J. Bruce. They talked about the "Bruce Circus," what it is like raising four kids under 11 years old, experiencing Omaha, giving up her career as an educator in Southern California when she moved to Nevada and enjoying the outdoors and Lake Tahoe.
Raising four kids under 11
While T.J. Bruce juggles his roster of 30-plus baseball players, Heather juggles four young children.
"It's chaos, but we’re used to the chaos," Heather said. "Our house is chaos 24/7. We call ourselves the 'Bruce Circus' for good reason. We always tell people, 'If you need entertainment we’re here for free.'
"Each week we’re kind of crossing a new hump and we're getting into a groove. It’s been a blessing. We’re trying to look at all of the positives of it. It’s the most we’ve been together as a family, ever. It’s the most I’ve seen him in our entire marriage. We’ve never not had baseball in our lives. My whole life knowing him, we’ve never not had baseball season. So there are a lot of hiccups in the road. You’re learning pretty much how to function as a family, which we’ve never done for this long period of time. So it is a little bit weird. It’s weird to see him doing stuff around the house because he’s not normally the guy to do that. I normally don’t ask him to do much at home because I know the time he has at home, I don’t want to take it from the kids and family time."
The first meeting
The Bruces weren't even in high school the first time they met.
"It was summer and he was on the Pop Warner football team that I was cheering for," Heather said. "My mom was the cheer director and we were at the local high school cleaning up from a day of practice and he was riding his bike around and my sister was calling him over. He was No. 81, and she was like, 'Oh, this is my sister, you guys are the same age.' And that was it. The first day of school was that Monday and I walked into the bungalow late. It was our first day of sixth grade. He’s sitting there pointing at me and teasing me with all of his buddies, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, that’s the kid from this weekend!' So him and my sister have this ongoing joke of my outfit on that day.
"All of our junior high teachers were at our wedding because they used to tease us all through junior high that one day we would get married. He went to an all=boys Catholic high school and I went to the local public high school, but I always tease him because he dated all of the girls at my high school. I tell him, 'You went to more of my high school dances than I did.' We were really great friends freshman and sophomore year. We had the same group of friends. We didn’t start dating until our junior year of high school.”
Becoming a Bruin
After playing at Cerritos College, Texas Tech and Long Beach State, Bruce was an assistant coach at Cerritos College for one season and Long Beach State for five years before joining the UCLA Bruins coaching staff in 2011.
"UCLA was the heartbeat to our family when his coaching career finally took off," Heather said. "It was an incredible experience because of the whole feel of the university and where it is located. But we were knee deep in babies, so I didn’t get to go to a lot of the games. Although UCLA was only 30 miles from Long Beach, you’re talking 1.5 to 2 hours of L.A. traffic each way. It was either nap time for the kids or I had screaming babies in carriers on the 405 freeway. In that sense, it was difficult. I would try to go to at least one game a week and as much as possible. He was recruiting, working and commuting so much. It was incredible to experience Omaha and all the Regionals and to really understand what it meant to be a baseball coach's wife, and that’s where I learned the role that it would play in our life. I felt like I was pregnant every baseball season or just had a baby every baseball season. It was a weird time of our lives.
"I was 7 months pregnant with Jaxon in Omaha. They had been to Omaha the year prior as well. I told him in 2013, I wasn’t coming until the very end this time. They kept winning and winning and winning and I wasn’t there. So I packed up both girls and flew there and we got to see the last couple series. It was an experience of a lifetime. A lot of people work their entire career to feel and I’ll never forget that last out and walking down to the field and him coming up to us and just seeing that emotion in his face. He’s not one to show a whole lot of emotion, as you probably know. He was just teary eyed and grabbed the girls and was like, 'This is why I'm gone so much. This right here.' He thanked me, and it was a neat thing."
Moving to Nevada
After five seasons at UCLA, Bruce got his first head-coaching gig with Nevada hiring him in June 2015 to replace Jay Johnson, who left for Arizona.
"Once he took on Nevada’s program, it became such a huge part of our family where it was like family decisions now revolved around it, so I felt much more a part of his career" Bruce said. "It was all so surreal to me. He was still pretty young and early in his coaching career. I knew he was an incredible coach, and I've always had so much confidence in him and he’s had the best mentors and he killed it at recruiting. It’s not that it took me by surprise. It just felt very surreal that it was happening right now. He’s turned down so many jobs before because he always wanted it to be the right fit. He has always said, 'Unless John (Savage) tells me this is a good fit, this is next the step, I won’t take it.' He had so much respect for John.
"When he came home from his interview, it was within hours he (Doug) called, and I was, like, 'You can’t just accept over the phone. We haven’t even been there. I don’t know what I’m walking into.' I wasn’t allowed to fly, I was too pregnant. So we drove. It took 15 hours, but I knew the hard work he had done was leading him into this direction and it was the next step.
"I left my career and I worked my entire life to be an educator. That was my childhood dream. That’s all I ever knew. So here I was leaving my church community because I was teaching at our local parish, and my teaching community, my family and friends. I’ve lived there my whole life. It was never in my vision to be a stay-at-home mom. I knew I wanted a big family, but that’s why I chose to teach so that I could kind of have both passions. So I was nervous for that.
"It was emotional but I knew I had to be totally OK with it. We have always said from the get-go, we will go wherever his career takes us, and that we will follow him. We chose that in the very beginning. Sometimes he has to remind me of that because I am a go-getter. I want it all. It was definitely hard because I felt like I was letting down my own dreams and I didn’t want to lose myself."
A transition in work
That’s where Heather found doTERRA.
"My faith is so important to me, and God was showing me, 'You’re not losing yourself. You’re still going to educate, just in a different way.' It was right around when we were moving to Reno I was trying to find natural options for the boys’ asthma. They had nebulizers and breathing machines at such a young age. I just remember sitting there crying putting that mask on them at night. So I started researching on Instagram about essential oils and came across doTERRA and started digging into the science of it and how they work and I wasn’t really sure. I’m not really one to go for a gimmick, but at this point I was willing to do anything. I couldn’t put these steroids into their body any longer.
"I found a girl that had posted about oils and reached out to her and come to find out she lived in Reno. The oils were helping and they never needed their breathing machines again. So it just kind of became a part of our lifestyle. It’s empowering as a mom to just have those tools at your fingertips and not be that stressed out Mom. It just kinda fell into my lap, and I felt like the stars aligned with it and I thought, 'You know what? I am so passionate about what these have done for my family and I want to share them with other people because I believe the power that they have and I want to help people.' It brings me so much joy teaching all about oils. I wanted to feel like I was contributing, I didn’t want it to all sit on T.J.’s shoulders."
Outside of being a mom and working with doTERRA, Bruce loves to read, be outdoors and travel to Lake Tahoe.
"There's no bad view here in Nevada," Bruce said. "You just really learn to appreciate such a different kind of life."
You can view the entire interview below.
Wine Wednesday topics with Heather Bruce
- Quarantine life around the Bruce household - 0:00
- Meeting T.J. for the first time - 12:33
- UCLA baseball - 15:25
- T.J. accepting his first head-coaching position at Nevada - 18:58
- Transitioning from Southern California to Nevada and giving up her career as an educator -20:58
- Best and worst thing about being a baseball wife - 28:36
- Building a relationship with the Nevada baseball team - 31:28
- Some of Heather's hobbies/favorite things - 33:54