Danusia Francis
Age: 22
Club: Heathrow
College: UCLA
Favorite Event: Beam

Career Highlights:

  • 2016 PAC-12, NCAA Regional & NCAA Balance Beam Champion
  • Scored 2 perfect 10s on beam
  • Six-time All-American
  • 2013 NACGC/W Scholastic All-American
  • Competed at two World Championships - 2015 for Jamaica and 2011 for Great Britain
  • 2012 Great Britain Olympic Team reserve
  • 2010, 2011 British beam champion
  • Graduated with a 3.5 GPA in English

How did you find out about NCAA?
I first found out through Marissa King and Nicola Willis being out there but all I knew at the time was that they were out there on gymnastics scholarships and that was the extent of my knowledge of the NCAA. Then once Becky Wing was looking at going I had a look on YouTube with her at some college gymnastics and started to notice the difference in performance quality and how much fun it was and eventually Becky told me all about it when she went to Stanford.

How did you get recruited?
A friend of my Mum’s who knew some of the college coaches told them I was interested and then the coaches contacted me.

What do you see as positives of NCAA gymnastics and elite gymnastics?
Your time management skills after doing both will be incredibly good. By doing elite and then college where you have to compete every single weekend, I found when I came back and did a couple more elite competitions (World University Games 2013 and World Championships 2015) during my college career I was a much better, more positive and confident performer. I understood how to compete I knew exactly how to prepare mentally and physically, which will improve with age of course but I think college dramatically enhanced those competitive qualities. College also re-ignited my spark for gymnastics and made me fall in love with it again because the competitions are so much more fun, and it was the reason I even wanted to compete elite again in the first place.

Was it hard living away from home? What was the biggest culture shock?
It definitely was at first, freshman year I definitely cried on the phone to my Mum a bit. But you get used to it and in the end I missed people from home but don’t think I actually felt homesick my last two years. The biggest culture shock was just the culture itself. America is much more different from Britain than you would expect in terms of the lifestyle and it takes some getting used to. It’s neither a bad or a good thing, just something you have to adapt to.

Who or what inspired you to go to university in America?
Becky inspired me the most because we were such good friends so I trusted her opinion when she said it was amazing I knew I could trust her judgement.

Why did you choose UCLA?
I think the idea of America is so daunting when you don’t know anything about it and I had previously decided I would quit in 2012 whatever happened with the Olympics so thinking of doing gymnastics for four more years was a big decision. But I knew the name UCLA as it is famous and a clothing brand here in the UK so I think I thought it was a far-fetched dream that would never happen, so I said I would only go to America if it was UCLA, and I told my mum that when she said some schools were interested. Then when UCLA was interested I couldn’t exactly go back on my word so I  went on my recruit trip and was immediately sold I had such a fun and memorable time and felt right at home and knew I would regret it if I didn’t come no matter how scary it seemed.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
The biggest challenge was probably getting used to a long competition season competing every weekend and having to be mentally and physically prepared that many weeks in a row. It can be up to sixteen weeks which is nothing like elite where you would compete a maximum of maybe three weekends in a row but even that was rare. So its pacing yourself and working as a team and it’s a lot to get used to I don’t think anyone can fully understand what it takes before going through a whole season themselves.

What do you think the benefits of the NCAA system are versus university in the UK for athletes?
In the UK there just isn't anything near the level of sporting excellence and support at the university level that the NCAA offers. It is an extremely unique opportunity and right now can only be achieved in the U.S. Even if the UK began to build a similar system I don’t know if it could ever really get as big due to the population being so much greater int he U.S meaning the crowds are huge. I never competed with a crowd the size of the NCAA gymnastics crowds in the U.K even at the British Championships.

What is your most memorable experience from your time at university?
There are honestly so many great memories I will forever cherish. But I would have to say my senior year winning the PAC 12 Championships when the whole team just came together on the same day and every single team member was behind one another and so bought into the goal until the very end. We didn’t have a flawless competition yet there were flawless moments and we knew from start to finish that we had what it took to win but we knew it wouldn't be easy. So making that dream come true as such a solid team unit was absolutely incredible and it is the most overwhelmingly happy feeling when a team goal is accomplished because of all the hard work of the individuals on that team all paying off at the right moment.

Would you recommend the NCAA route to other gymnasts/athletes from the UK?
YES. 100% it is the the sole reason Becky and I wanted to start Leap the Atlantic. I am always astounded at the blessings I have had through my gymnastics career. I have had a scholarship since I was nine years old through primary and secondary school (at St. David’s & then Surbiton HIgh School & Sixth Form) and then UCLA. I always wonder why me? So to be able to give back in some way is my life goal, if I am able to help at least one person get a scholarship at an American university I will be so happy because I know they are about to have a life-changing experience and make friends and memories that last forever.

What did you learn in this unique role as a student-athlete that you don’t think you would have learned elsewhere?
How to be a great teammate and leader. I learned how to effectively communicate with all types of personalities, how to lead by example as well as by motivating the team. Time management and learning what and when to prioritise different things in my life. You learn a lot about yourself too having a lot of responsibilities and pressure at a crucial time in your young adulthood.

Do you think gymnasts in the UK have enough access to information and inspiration in regards to trying to follow the NCAA route?
Nope, which is where Becky and I come in. We are here for you to give you our honest experiences, of course it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Yet we think it is sooo worth it and the best decision we made in our lives. So we want to help other gymnasts have the opportunity to change their lives and make the most out of their gymnastics careers and education like we did.