Jamaica's gymnastics has found its 'wonder woman'

...Nicole Grant leads fight to put artistic sport on springboard

Observer staff reporter

Friday, January 12, 2018

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Very often coaches and athletes take the spotlight for various sporting achievements.

Seldom are those who work assiduously behind the scenes given recognition for their significant contributions to making those successes possible.

Nicole Grant, president of the National Gymnastics Federation (NGF), previously Jamaica Amateur Gymnastic Association (JAGA), is among those whose efforts sometimes go unnoticed, despite being an integral part of the success and steady growth of the 'non-traditional' sport.

Sure, Jamaica's gymnasts deserve every bit of recognition because many can hardly find the strength to merely tie their shoelaces after a gruelling week, yet a number of Jamaica's young men and women are undertaking acrobatic manoeuvres to beat the band.

Still, Grant has been virtually the backbone of Jamaica's gymnastics revival since taking the helm in January 2015.

Obviously, there are many challenges that she would have had to endure and eventually overcome over the past three years, but just like her athletes, Grant has developed a certain level of self-confidence through gymnastics.

“It has been a trying three years, but very encouraging because I have seen the progression of the gymnasts over the time,” Grant told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

Grant's first order of business upon entry was to strategically focus on and motivate the gymnasts, with hopes of drawing attention to the sport in Jamaica in order to create awareness.

As such, she convinced the rest of the Caribbean to agree to have Jamaica host the first staging of the biennial Caribbean Gymnastics Championships (CGC) in November 2015.

But she would soon find out the true meaning of the phrase 'some things are easier said than done'.

“It was very challenging for me, and many persons thought it wouldn't happen as JAGA was literally broke. For almost four years prior, the SDF (Sports Development Foundation) had stopped funding the sport and when I took up office the account had a negative balance. As such, doubt among the members was understandable.

“I was very optimistic as I thought we could get funding from the SDF to assist. Unfortunately, I left that meeting gravely disappointed as, not only was the request for funding declined, but the advice given was not to host this early in my tenure,” Grant explained.

However, through sheer determination and assistance from parents and a few sponsors, Jamaica National (JN), Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), Logo Stitch and Petrojam, Grant saw phase one of her vision come to fruition.

“History will show that we did host the championships and I was very proud of the outcome as the 52 gymnasts made Jamaica proud by winning the first CGC and went on the win it again last year,” she beamed.

From there, Grant's focus shifted to coaches' development where she approached the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) requesting that they host a FIG Level One Coaching Academy in Jamaica.

This, she said, was done to ensure full compliance for only certified coaches to train gymnasts as the country could not develop its athletes without qualified coaches.

“It was unprecedented because in order to play host, a country had to apply one year in advance and we did it in less than three months. Our first FIG Level One course was held in November 2015, where 12 local coaches and nine other coaches from the Caribbean attended.

“Since then we have hosted the Level Two last October and a Level One Trampoline Gymnastics Course. Because those courses were for advance coaches, we also designed a local course for all our coaches in the schools programme so we could have qualified coaches teaching our children,” Grant, who is now in her second term as president, revealed.

For her, the defining moment as president came in 2016 when Jamaica was historically represented at the Rio Olympics in gymnastics by the American-based Toni-Ann Williams. Williams was asked to replace English-based gymnast Danusia Francis, who had earlier secured a spot at the Olympic Test Event, but would have been ineligible to participate at the Olympic Games had she qualified.

Prior to that, in the same year, Grant was instrumental in getting a team of juniors from age five to participate at the CaribFest Gymnastics Meet in Virginia, where they won Levels One, Two, Three and Six.

“2016 was a huge year for us because, along with the Olympic participation we were also able to expose the younger kids to higher level competition and training with other gymnasts of their peers. We had our first overseas summer camp at G Force Gymnastics with 12 of our juniors leaving home for five weeks to train.

“For this we must say special thanks to Macey Watson, who was very encouraged and excited when I visited him in Virginia. As a Jamaican himself, he was willing and ready to give of himself and his facility to help us, and he currently hosts two of our very promising young gymnasts, who migrated to improve their gymnastics abilities,” Grant stated with an air of excitement.

But the wonder woman of Jamaican gymnastics is reluctant to take all the credit and commended to other members of the board who have also played their part in the revival and continued growth of the sport.

“Our international relations vice-president Mrs Marlene Williams did well to assist the seniors with camps in California, England and Baltimore. Though she resides in the US she is always willing and ready to help, so much so that she served as manager for the teams to 2016 and 2017 World Championships.

“None of this could be possible without her and other members of the board and I am really appreciative of their efforts,” Grant said.

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