A rhythm of her own

1 June 2016

Close your eyes and imagine standing poised, 15,000 people surrounding you and millions watching from every corner of the globe.

You’re in Brazil, not far from those famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, at a party that features more than 10,000 of the planet’s most talented individuals.

As your name is called, a momentary hush falls before you walk to the centre of the stadium.

The silence is broken in rapturous fashion by the opening chords of INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart.

“I really love that song,” explains Rio Olympics hopeful Danielle Prince.

“A lot of people recognise that relationship between the song and me being Australian.”

It doesn’t hurt that the distinctive tune features several dramatic pauses and instrumental cascades that lend themselves perfectly to rhythmic gymnastics.

Never Tear Us Apart has been a staple of Danielle’s preparation as she crosses her fingers for a berth at Rio de Janeiro.

For her performance, the University of Queensland Bachelor of Health, Sport and Physical Education student is only allowed to select a singular song that features lyrics.

It’s one of the intricacies of a sport that she admits gets missed by the majority of the population.

“Interest in what I do ebbs and flows a lot,” the 23-year-old explains.

“Around the Olympics – so once every four years – it gets a bit mental and everyone wants a piece of you.

“Some of my friends see what I do and they’re like ‘Is that a new sport?’.

“And I have to explain, no, this is what I’ve been spending all that time in the gym for the past few years.

“It is such a minority sport here in Australia, but when people see it, their minds are blown at how amazing and creative it is.”

Danielle’s training regime is extremely disciplined.

She averages 30 hours in the gym per week, offset by her university coursework and working part-time at Camp Hill Primary School.

The disruption to her studies is significant but she is careful to avoid using the word ‘sacrifice’, rather thinking of it as the logical step to achieving the long-term goals she truly desires.

Already, she has featured at two Commonwealth Games, winning a team gold in 2010 in Delhi.

In fact, her first World Championships came in 2009 while she was still completing Grade 12 at Moreton Bay College.

She finished her Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test and then, that very night, flew to Japan for the titles.

“I’ve been at UQ since 2010, but due to my workload I won’t actually graduate until around 2019,” says Danielle.

“For instance, I was away for seven weeks alone in the first semester of 2015.

“I admit I struggle with the balance sometimes…being a perfectionist I try to do everything and want to do everything well.

“The people at UQ have been amazing and a real asset to me, especially Kim Cooper the Personal Development Advisor from UQ Sport.

“She’ll reinforce that I need to be realistic about the workload I take on, plus all my lecturers and tutors are informed about when I will be competing or travelling.

“UQ really is an athlete-friendly university and they have procedures and support in place to help you combine elite sports with study.”

Over the holiday period Danielle was in Helsinki, Finland, honing her routines, focusing solely on being at her best if called upon by Australia for Rio.

Despite her past success at the Commonwealth Games, Danielle missed out on the 2012 Olympics in London.

Should she be announced as a competing athlete this time around – as is being hotly tipped – it will be not only her debut at an Olympiad, but also her first time in South America.

“At my age I’d be considered the grandma of the gymnastics team,” she says, only half-joking.

“I’m the oldest rhythmic gymnast in Australia at the moment, but I definitely think with age comes experience and to have those things behind me is an advantage.

“I do a lot of rehab, pilates and strengthening to take care of myself, and am very conscious of avoiding injuries.

“People talk about how I don’t go out much or eat chocolate, but this sport has such a limited window and I’m just ensuring I make the most of my opportunities.”

A dancer during infancy, Prince only switched to gymnastics at age 11 after an instructor commented on her outstanding natural flexibility.

She has been with current coach Gina Peluso since 2009 and built a strong relationship training out of Premier Gymnastics, which operates at both Moreton Bay College and Somerville House.

Though Danielle’s regime still includes a healthy portion of ballet training, she admits there are now elements of her routine that excite her even more than dance.

“The ball fascinates a lot of people. Being able to throw it in the air, somersault and catch the ball in between your feet while doing a handstand is pretty cool,” Prince enthuses.

It’s hard to argue, when her passion for the sport so evidently oozes from every pore.

Even knowing that rhythmic gymnastics has long been dominated by Russia, other former Soviet states and European powerhouses such as Italy, Danielle is defiant in aiming for the top.

Seeing her in action, it’s clear that she’s a lot stronger than people may first give her credit for – both physically and mentally.

You sense that if she can bring that same dedication to her career as a primary school physical education teacher, she will leave an indelible impression on those under her guidance.

“I am really passionate about healthy lifestyles,” she says.

“On top of that I am a strong advocate for girls participating in sport.

“As an athlete who has gone right through from a young age, you see a lot of females who drop out because of body issues or other factors that make them think ‘sport is not for me’.

“I want to be there, encouraging them to push through.”

Words: Rob Burgin

Photos: Anjanette Webb