Gymnast, manager, coach, stunt double, TV presenter – Danusia Francis dons many roles. For the 25-year-old artistic gymnast from London, who dreams of representing Jamaica in the Olympic Games, nothing is too many.
She almost had her dream come true in 2016 when she earned Jamaica’s maiden gymnastic berth in the Olympics. However, the country picked another gymnast for the Rio games, crushing her long-term dream. But Nush, as she is affectionately called, is not somebody who easily gives up. She took a short break from the sport after graduating from the University of California Los Angeles and spent some time coaching gymnastics and working as a TV presenter. In September 2017, she decided to return to the sport to chase her dream again.
GB to Jamaica
Born in Coventry, Nush started practising gymnastics at five as a way to burn off some energy. A member of Heathrow Gymnastics Club, she had represented Great Britain at the European and World Championships in 2011. She began representing her father’s home country Jamaica in 2015.
With the likes of Usain Bolt and Deon Hemmings pioneering its track and field prowess, the Caribbean nation is not famous for producing gymnasts. The country is still fairly new to the scene, but their results are improving each time they compete.
“The more we get out there and showcase our talent, the more we inspire the next generation and the more success we will have in the future,” says Francis. “It will be amazing in years to come if our gymnasts become as good as our track and field athletes and it will be a huge honour if I become part of the process in getting us there.”
Most of Jamaica’s elite gymnasts train outside the country because of lack of funding and facilities. But Francis is hopeful that the scenario will change in the near future: “The more we can get our names out there, the more funding they get back home. With the current facilities and coaching team, they are doing an incredible job there. However at the senior elite level, there are not enough facilities to train and compete. I hope the current set of young gymnasts get proper training and funding by the time they reach the senior level.”
Bolt and London: her confidence boosters
Francis will be vying for the Olympic berth at World Championships that starts in Stuttgart on October 4: “I am positive that if I do my job at the World Championships, I have a great shot at representing Jamaica next year in the Olympics. Hopefully Jamaica will be able to get a male and a female representative this time which will already be an improvement on 2016.”
Francis’ dream is to make her country proud using the confidence she gained from her idol Usain Bolt: “I look up to him for his confidence, charisma and authenticity. I was so starstruck when I met him, but he was so friendly and supportive. The way he showed his support to me as a gymnast representing Jamaica was validation and a confidence boost to keep pushing the sport in our country.”
Francis also credits London for making her what she is today: “It might sound a bit cheesy but there is something about London that makes you feel like there are endless opportunities and adventures to have in life. In central London, I am always discovering new cool places and it always has a buzz of exciting energy. I think this has helped to give me the confidence to seize the day, chase my dreams and to live life to the fullest.”
Being in a sport riddled with controversies, Francis says it is very important for young gymnasts to always speak up. The fraternity was particularly shaken up by the USA gymnastics sex abuse scandal that broke out in 2016: “My advice to any young gymnasts is to speak up if you are feeling uncomfortable in any way from a coach or anyone involved in your training. However daunting it may seem, speak up. Do not suffer in silence. You will be listened to and the problem will be sorted out.”
Francis has worked as a host for British gymnastics stage show GymFusion, a host and backstage interviewer for British modelling competition Top Model UK and as a talk show host for University of California Los Angeles’ YouTube show Bruin Banter. She has also worked as a stuntwoman, including doubling for musician Rita Ora at the 2017 MTV European Music Awards where she performed a somersault into a car.
When asked how she manages to juggle so many roles at a young age, she credited her organising skills for it: “I am a serial list-maker and a suitcase packing pro! I stay on top of my schedule and take into account what I am prioritising at what time of the year. If I know I will need to prioritise my training in September and October then I will make sure I am prioritising my work in August. I love opportunities and so I try to accept as many as I can, but I am also good at making sure I plan down time to keep me sane.”