On June 27, 2002, gymn.ca’s Leslie Foster caught up with Canada’s new national champion, Oshawa’s Danielle Hicks. Hicks’ candid nature was a pleasure to behold and, following our interview, she put comfort aside on this hot, humid day and donned a long-sleeved leo to pose for a gymn.ca photo shoot.
In this gymn.ca exclusive interview, Hicks shares her thoughts and opinions of her life, inside and outside of the sport in which she has dedicated her life.
gymn.ca: Welcome, Danielle. Thanks for taking time from your training to meet with gymn.ca.
We understand that you were plagued with a painful back injury during Nationals and yet still managed to win the senior national title. How is your back feeling now and could you tell us about your recuperation process?Danielle Hicks: My back is getting better. I'm going to physio three times a week. I'm going to massage therapy about three times a week also. I'm going to the chiropractor and I'm doing everything that I possibly can to make myself better so I can compete at Commonwealth Games. I'm still doing moderate training and it's not full out. No dismounts because it hurts on the landing but it's going, I feel, good.
gymn.ca: So it sounds as though you definitely feel that you will be healed and prepared for Commonwealth Games.
gymn.ca: At Elite Canada this past December, where you placed 2nd AA, you told Gymn.ca that you were concentrating your efforts on the 2002 season, primarily the Pacific Alliance Championships and the Commonwealth Games. You have since had a successful showing at Pacific Alliance, where you made the vault final (which was shown on CBC) and, based on your win at Nationals, you earned automatic consideration for the Commonwealth Games team. Has your recent string of successes raised your level of confidence and have they changed your long term goals, specifically with regard to the individual event Worlds this fall, the 2003 World Championships and 2004 Olympic Games?
DH: It's definitely changed my outlook. I hadn't really thought about 2004 but I would really like to go to 2002 Individual Worlds, especially on floor or beam.
gymn.ca: Your two best events?
DH: Yeah. I wouldn't mind going to Worlds if I can and 2004 is still pretty far away. I haven't been crazy about 2004 because I don't know what I want to do yet because it's the same year I would go to school so it's not a for sure for me yet. But if it's there, I would take the opportunity. That's why I wanted to do well at Nationals so that if I was given the opportunity, I could say "yes" or "no". Now that I have the opportunity, I choose yes and I'll stick with it.
gymn.ca: Can you take us through the series of events beginning with your move from Gemini Gymnastics in March of 1999 to the Academy of Sport and Fitness, where you trained under the guidance of Paula Johnson, to your return to Gemini two years later?
DH: I left Gemini in 1999 because of problems with the head coach and I went to see Paula and I trained with her very well so I stayed there for two years and it was great. She gave me confidence. She made me love the sport again. She gave me everything I needed. We trained really well and I came back to Gemini, not because of Paula, but because of family reasons. The traveling and because I have a brother and a sister so it's not just me. My family, not me, made that decision.
gymn.ca: While at ASF, you went through the difficult adolescent years, during which time you were also contending with injuries. When you returned to Gemini two years later, Elena Davydova was the head coach, assisted by Valery Yahchybekov. You were not the same Danielle who left Gemini as a child in 1999 to the young lady who returned in 2001. How has your relationship with your coach changed due to the changes in your life?
DH: When I came back, Elena was head coach and that changes everything. She lets me have my own program, the way Paula did. So I go to every event, not by myself -- she gives corrections but I already have the skills and the routines and I know what to do. I know my own body now a lot better.
gymn.ca: So if you're hurting, you know you can't do skills on that day.
DH: Yeah. I'll change around my own program She's fine with it some days and other days she pushes me and that helps a lot. With her being head coach, it's changed a lot here in the gym. It's like a mother-daughter relationship. She used to be "lovey-dovey", she's always been my mother at the gym but now she's more a coach but I think that's what I need right now. Because I've had discipline for so long, I think it's time for me to be on my own now. I think it helps a lot.
Hicks left Gemini in Oshawa in 1999 to go to ASF where
she was coached by Paula Johnson (left). She now trains
again under Elena Davydova (right) out of the Gemini club
gymn.ca: Many young Canadian gymnasts look up to you and wish to follow in your footsteps. These kids frequent our site so I thought that you would like to share with them the successes that you have had outside of the sport, specifically scholastically. You attend Eastdale Collegiate in Oshawa where you are a member of the High Performance Athlete Program. Can you tell us about your achievements in school and how this program assists you as you advance through your athletic career?
DH: School is one of my favourite things. I like going to school and I have good friends there. It makes me feel like a normal teenager. I belong to the sports program and it helps a lot because I can go to all of my classes and it works out because I have two spares so I don't miss as much school. My highest mark is 98% - in math - and my average is 92.9% so I'm happy with that. So next year, I'll be in Grade 11. It will be a little harder but I want to graduate with honours.
Hicks is an elegant
as well as stable beam worker
gymn.ca: Are there any awards granted by this program?
DH: I have received the High Performance Athlete Program award last year and I'll get it again this year for having the highest mark in the class. In the sports program, we keep logs and journals and she (teacher) marks those and the hours we spend here (at the gym) and we get so many points and stuff. But she'll come in and watch us train.
gymn.ca: Do you have your sites set on achieving an athletic scholarship with an American university and competing for the NCAA?
DH: Yes. (laughs) That's why I'm here. Just two more years left and that's why I'm still in here training now because I've had my doubts but it's only two years and having a scholarship is what I've always wanted.
gymn.ca: Are there any universities that you have your sights set on?
DH: Um, Arizona, North Carolina...somewhere warm (laughs).
gymn.ca: Do you know at this point what areas of study you would like to pursue in college?
DH: Right now I want to be a plastic surgeon so lots of medicines, sciences.
gymn.ca: You won your first Canadian title in 1997 (in the novice division) at the tender age of 11 and the following year, you not only won the all-around, but almost made a clean sweep of all the gold medals. How did you feel about these early successes and did you begin to realize at that time that you had the potential to represent your country at the highest possible level?
DH: I don't think I realized it. I was young. I definitely worked hard but with compulsories and stuff, it wasn't really full out routines but I also had my own program. But when I went to Paula after that, she helped teach me all the skills because I was stuck with all the basics because of the compulsories. I think after those two meets, I realized I was behind even though I had won so she made me work harder because I was going into junior so I needed way more than what I had.
gymn.ca: Why did you initially become interested in participating in gymnastics?
DH: My babysitter put me in when I was four. Her daughter was in the sport and she was in recreation or something and we'd have to go and wait for her. I would be climbing all over the equipment.
gymn.ca: What aspects of the sport do you find the most appealing?
DH: I think the determination and working towards goals helps a lot. It's your sport and it's your whole life and it's just a great aspect of everything. You have your goals, you have your dreams and you work to get them, just like real life.
gymn.ca: Is there anything that you dislike about the sport?
DH: All the time spent in here. I like going out and being a normal teenager. My parents make me realize that I have everything that I need and everything else that everyone else has so you still get those awkward moments when you don't want to...but only two more years.
gymn.ca: What is your favourite event and why?
DH: Right now, it's floor. It's always been beam but beam has been kind of awkward with my back and trying to get new skills to up my start values. Now floor is my easiest event.
gymn.ca: You like to dance?
DH: Not really (laughs).
gymn.ca: You have very nice choreography.
Thanks...(pause) I don't know, floor right now is easy to get through and I find it more fun.
gymn.ca: Do you like showing yourself with expression?
DH: Sometimes. It depends on the day. At competitions, I like it.
gymn.ca: Which event or skills do you find the most challenging?
DH: Bars is the most challenging because you have to keep up your endurance and just getting through that long bar routine. I think my routine is like 50 seconds or something and that's a long time to work bars. And keeping your skills---if you grow even a centimeter all your skills are gone. It's pretty hard so you keep working at it and I think it hurts the most also because your hands hurt and you get calluses. Your grips are off one day...it's just a bad event.
gymn.ca: Are you working any new skills on bars?
DH: I've been thinking about it. I've been working a giant full to Jaegar so I can do the giant one and a half into the double front. So there's not much I can do with it because it's all there.
gymn.ca: What are you general impressions on the current Code of Points?
DH: It sucks (laughs). It's awful. They're making us work so hard that we're breaking our backs. It's just awful, especially on vault. I'm doing half on half front off and it's only a 9.30 start value and it's one of the most difficult technique wise so it's just a little awkward. On beam, jumps and everything...it's just really hard. It's all the same skills so I don't know. I was watching a video on Olga Korbut and she's doing all these new skills. Noone is doing anything original or inventing new skills. It's as hard as it can be.
(this discussion leads to snickers about ugly, choppy skills such the tuck jump double that ruin the flow of routines)
gymn.ca: Since becoming a member of Canada's national team, you have had the opportunity to travel to other countries and be exposed to different cultures. What has been your favourite place to visit and your best and/or funniest memory?
DH: I haven't been anywhere yet outside Canada, except for the U.S. I haven't been anywhere.
gymn.ca: Haven't you been to Australia?
DH: Yeah. It was only a junior meet and it was a long time ago so I don't really remember much. I haven't been anywhere with the senior national team so I'm hoping that Commonwealth Games is going to be one of my favourite memories.
gymn.ca: Is there anything that stands out for you during your trips to the U.S.?
DH: Las Vegas was lots of fun.
gymn.ca: Are there any famous gymnasts that you idolized or admired while growing up?
DH: Svetlana Khorkina is one of my favourites. She reminds me a lot of myself. She's just very unique and she's not a very powerful gymnast. I'm like her. I'm not very powerful. I'm just very graceful and she likes to play with the audience so I idolize that because I want to be able to do that. It's like "watch me!"
gymn.ca: Can you tell us about your family and the role that they have played during your gymnastics career?
DH: My Mom keeps me in the sport. My Dad is very supportive. He'll stay back if I'm having a bad day. He'll support me and make me feel better and my Mom pushes me which helps sometimes. They've been very helpful with everything. They drive me everywhere and make sure I have all the help I need...physio, chiropractor and they've been really helpful.
gymn.ca: You mentioned earlier a brother and a sister? Wasn't your sister involved in gymnastics at one time?
DH: Yeah...a long time ago. She did it when she was like three and she didn't like doing the splits so...
gymn.ca: What does your brother like to do?
DH: He was in the Air Cadettes for the longest time. He's 19 and he just had to retire and he's going to university next year.
gymn.ca: Before we finish, are there any words of advice that you would like to share with Canada's young gymnasts?
DH: Set a goal and achieve it. Work hard because it will all pay off.
gymn.ca: Is there anything else you would like to share?
DH: I want to thank Elena and Paula and Valery for sticking with me and helping me get through all the tough times.
gymn.ca: Very good. Thank you, Danielle!
DH: 'Kay. (giggles)
Hicks goofing around with friends, Jackie Cramp (left) and Michelle Totz (right)
For more information on Danielle Hicks, visit Gymn.ca's profile here.