Good day, Everyone!
Please, welcome exceptional Lady, Danuta Smiechowski, Head Coach of Olympium Rhythmic Gymnastics Club!
Danuta lives in Toronto, ON and has been the Head Coach of the Club for almost 30 years now. Wife, Mother and hush… Grandmother, she is strict and kind, loving and demanding and so modest! She never says "I achieved" or "I made it happen", but rather "I was blessed"
And I was truly blessed by being able to present Danuta's life story to you!
Danuta, where are you originally from and how did you get started in gymnastics?
I was born in Central part of Poland, then I moved with my parents to Gdansk. That’s where I was introduced to Rhythmic Gymnastics. I started when I was 7 and I was doing it till University years. Gymnastics was very different at that time – it was mainly individuals. Groups started to appear when I was leaving Poland, the first group was created to go to the championships – that was very exciting time.
Do you remember any gymnasts or coaches from your “back home” time?
Well, this was very long time ago. The funny thing is, the lady who was a president of FIG (International Federation of Gymnastics) for the last 3 years – she competed when I was little. When I am trying to remember what gymnastics looked like at that time – the gymnasts used to be more mature, like ladies, women in their early 30s, as gymnastics was by far less demanding. I remember beautiful, attractive forms. First of all there was a huge difference in the audience, you could see so many gentlemen, because on the carpet you could see mature ladies, not skinny babies. I remember one beautiful lady, in white suite, she had lovely blond pony tail, very attractive. She had a very simple hoop routine, and she threw her hoop may be 1 meter high, and the entire audience went “Ahhhhh”, and she caught it and placed very high. So you can imagine what and incredible transition this sport went through.
Danuta presenting the awards to the gymnasts
Yes, same as modeling and dance and figure skating, I guess. What was your highest achievement as a gymnast?
I was in the National Team, top 3 at that time. It was called Master of Sports Level, this is like High Performance these days.
When did you move to Canada?
We moved in 1982 and it was an accident how I started working at the Olympium. We were learning English and getting adjusted, and we met a Lady, Miss Koop.
Sorry, Mrs. Hoop? That’s a good name for Rhythmic Gymnastics.
No, no, Mrs. Koop. She started Kalev Club in 1956 or around that time. So, I started working there, but the gym was so far from the place we used to live. Then my son started swimming at the Olympium, as my husband used to be a swimmer for Poland. When taking my son to the pool, my husband saw a sign, offering rhythmic gymnastics for City Toronto, so he asked who was teaching it. It appeared, that they just lost the coach and the position was wide open. And this is how I started.
So, how old is the club actually?
I started in 1986.
So, in 3 years we will have a 30 years anniversary – we should have a big celebration.
We definitely should! Actually 30 years ago the facility was not that busy, we started working downstairs, where the fitness club is, and then slowly made our way upstairs. We got some talents emerge and I started asking for the big gym – it was once a week, then twice a week, so Mike, the facility supervisor used to say: “You are like a Russian Army taking over!”
Danuta, Margaret and Olympium Gymnasts
Do you see any difference in gymnasts 30 years ago and now?
Yes, even 10 or 15 years ago. I am not sure what the reason seems to be, either the TV or new technology. Kids used to live their lives through the sport, they did not mind cancelling their dance party or birthday party to come for competition or practice. If someone would approach me and say “I won’t be in tomorrow, I have a sleep over” I would just make big eyes and they would immediately say “No, no that’s ok, I will just be a little late!” (Danuta laughs). They did not have that many parties or school events before….
So, you are saying they don’t have this burning desire to achieve something?
No, they do, they just don’t realize they have to work hard for it.
You mean they are getting everything too easy, everything is given to them?
Yes, even at school the program is easier. They are going from grade to grade. Before, we had to pass the exam to move to the next grade and you always had a fear that you would fail and have to stay in the same grade for another year. But then parents weren’t that busy before, we always had a few stay-at-home moms, but now when both parents are working it is quite challenging to coordinate the events.
What do you think is the most important for the girls to get more involved in gymnastics?
Well, I can’t say girls come here every day just because of pure love for gymnastics – they have to like the coach and they have to make some good friends, then gymnastics becomes a big part of their lives.
What is the most enjoyable part of working in the club?
To see the interest in learning. I was never concerned with the kids who just can’t get it at once, as long as they want to do it, to make it happen. My biggest fear ever was to see a gifted gymnast, able to learn, able to do, but she is not interested. It is such an incredible joy to see these new girls, I call them baby octopus, because they are all over the place, to see when all of a sudden little gymnast appears out of this little octopus.
What are you still trying to achieve? What is your Golden Goal?
You know what? I was blessed, I had and still have so many wonderful gymnasts, like Erica was my little jewel and many more, not every coach gets this lucky. Erica was the first one I took to international level – and it was hard, to come from Canada and introduce Canadian gymnast in Europe. We were always trying to be different – different music, different choreography, something new that was not expected in Europe.
Danuta and Erica
Hopefully you will have many more International Gymnasts!
As I said I was blessed, I see joy in every gymnast, growing and developing, and don’t have a need to achieve more, as I already have it.
Do you like to travel?
I do, I travel a lot. We were in South Africa, Egypt, Malaysia, Portugal, Spain. But again, I can say I went to all these places and what did I see – Gym! (Danuta is still laughing). I remember we were in South Africa and organizers were really smart – they combined Rhythmic and Artistic Gymnastics competition. So, there were guys from artistics would do the vault or bars and girls from Rhythmics performing their routines one after another. Our girls were trying extra hard!
Where would you still like to go?
China! And also visit all the places as normal tourist!
You have a son. Is he still swimming?
Peter already has his own children.
Children? How many?
Hush-hush, he has 3. So I am triple-grand-ma, but I will ask them to just call me by the name so no one can guess, LOL. Actually Peter was doing ok in swimming, not brilliantly though, then we moved him to water polo. And he was so incredibly successful there! I was always laughing and saying that he got his good swimming technique from swimming and his great ball techniques from his Mama.
How old are your grandchildren?
Sophia is turning 8 soon, Nickolas is 5 and little Stella just turned 3.
2 girls and a boy. You are really blessed – you got all of it
And what is home for you?
I was thinking about it – I have 2 homes, one back in Poland and one here, in Canada! I am trying to maintain Polish traditions here – food, holidays, celebrations. I am not trying to be less Canadian, just want to keep our best traditions. I am blessed again!
Great, thank you very much, Danuta, this was a wonderful life story and we all learned so much new!
Please, stay tuned interview with Erica Leigh Howard is coming up soon!
All photographs – courtesy of
Olympium Rhythmic Gymnastics Club
Summer Camp will be running for another 3 weeks – feel free to call and register, all levels welcome.
Registration for the new season will begin end of August – keep in touch!
Compliments of Marina Gavrylyuk
Real Estate Agent with Sutton Group Summit Realty
and Rhythmic Gymnastics Meet Director
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