J'can gymnast Danyella Richards defies odds in reach for greatness

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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She may not have been naturally gifted like some of her peers, but what Danyella Richards possesses is a stubborn determination and an unwavering will to succeed.

These, along with her flexibility and mobility, standing at just about four feet tall, are key attributes that have placed her on the current path to prominence in Jamaica's gymnastics.

At 13 years of age her courage always rises at every attempt at achieving success.

The single-minded Richards told her parents to allow her to go overseas shortly after completing the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) at Creative Kidz Learning Academy two years ago.

Only 11 years old at the time, she this would have granted flexibility and allowed her to devote more time to gymnastics at a young age.

Her wish was granted and a kind scholarship from Macey Watson, part owner of G Force Gymnastics in Virginia, added impetus to her pursuit as she took up residence at Virginia Academy.

And once she competed at the United States Regional top meet and won in what was an exceptional season for her, her interest in the sport continued to grow.

Little did anyone know that “Dynamite Dany” — as she is known to her family and peers — was a unique talent, as she went on to win three all-around titles and was the bar and vault champion for states. She also placed fifth on floor and third all-around at states.

Along with winning regional, Richards was also the floor champion, finished second on vault and bars, and fourth on beam. Her vault, which was the second highest in the state of Virginia for her level, and bar score also made it to the US top 100 gymnastics list.

“It has been a very hard transition, because at first I was a bit worried about my new gym and competing for them and making new friends. But then once I got a feel of things I actually settled in well and I am happy where I am now.

“I do miss my family and my friends a lot, so that was one of the hardest parts for me, but it has been a good experience so far. And I am very glad all my hard work and all the time away from my family and friends has paid off and is still paying off and now I get some time with them,” Richards told the Jamaica Observer during her stop at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue offices while visiting the island on Friday.

However, it has not been smooth-sailing for the rising star, as injury from a spill on the bar apparatus set her back and she was left to contest another year in level eight.

“The beginning of the season I was doing bars and I fell on my neck and that kind of set me back because I became scared of a lot of things. It was very hard for me because I wanted to improve my skills, but I couldn't do that because of the fall.

“After that incident I didn't dismount the bar for like eight months because I was scared to do it, and that really messed me up because I had to do bar routine but I couldn't do it without the dismount,” Richards shared.

She continued: “So that made me scared and it took a toll on all the other events because I thought I was going to fall and I thought I was going to hurt myself, so I wasn't as confident.

“But my coach (Eric Cali) helped me with that a lot. He took it step by step and one day he did drills with me and then I just went for it and my fear was over with. So I did another year at level eight and that was a lot smoother for me because I wasn't as stressed and fearful.”

From there, the bubbly Richards went on to win Buckeye, Excalibur and KPack before conquering the highly competitive States and Regional championships.

“I am glad that I got some experience in Jamaica which I brought to Virginia and pushed forward, and I am happy that things are going well. I still have to learn my level nine skills so that is going to be a challenge, but it is going to be fun,” she said with a broad smile.

“I want to go to the 2020 Olympics and I want to improve my skills and go to college and continue building my future in gymnastics. I still have a lot of work to do and some distance to go, but if I don't make 2020 I will aim for 2024,” Richards added with the determination in her eyes shining through like the noon day sun.

Cognisant that the road to success is never easy, Richards' mother Haedi-Kaye Holmes, who accompanied her, was overwhelmed with pride, having seen her daughter's determination soar in overcoming the obstacles.

“I am extremely proud of her; it has been very rewarding because to make the decision to send away my 11-year-old to live in another country was a very difficult decision. But she came to me and said she really wants to progress in gymnastics and she thinks this is the path that she needs to take.

“So to see her struggle through the season and when she went up there to G Force she was really behind everyone, because there was a lot that she had to learn. Her body was conditioned differently so it was really difficult for her, the tears and all, and I could only support her over the phone on WhatsApp call, so it was extremely tough to see her go through all off that,” Holmes explained.

“Over the past two years she has visited Jamaica a few times, but only for about three days, so she hasn't gotten that time to spend with her family and she is sacrificing her childhood really. And to see her on the podium as regional champion was absolutely rewarding,” she added.

But while acknowledging her daughter's sacrifice in pursuit of greatness, Holmes has also had to make some sacrifices herself — the biggest one being on the financial side.

“I would say the greatest toll it has taken is financially, because gymnastics is expensive. Competition cost a lot of money, I travel to see her and try to see her every six weeks, so it cost a lot of money,” she noted.

“But her transition has been phenomenal, seeing her and the way she has progressed. I mean when you watch videos of her before and videos of her now I mean honestly, I never expected her to transition the way she did.

“I mean it is mind-blowing to see her form now. Her coaches took her to a camp in Las Vegas where all the top US coaches were and she stood out and made an impression, so it is rewarding knowing that you spend all this time and money and at the end of the day she is excelling and college is something that we are looking at,” Holmes ended.

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