Francesca Fox took up gymnastics at the age of four after a coach happened to spot her on a trampoline during her sister’s birthday party. He suggested to her mother that gymnastics could be an option and, 15 years later, she was representing Great Britain as part of the rhythmic gymnastics team at the London Olympics.
Along the way, having trained in Russia and Bulgaria, she had won a host of domestic and international medals, and the Olympics was the pinnacle of her career. She subsequently retired from professional gymnastics and came to Majorca, where she was cast as Captain Scarlet at the world-famous Pirates Adventure spectacle in Magalluf. After having thrilled the crowds for four years, three years ago she decided to venture out on her own and set up the Francesca Fox Gymnastics (FFG) school at the Baleares International College. Her school is currently celebrating winning a haul of medals at the Bath Gymnastic Open last month.
"It was the first time we had seriously entered a competition and it was amazing. The kids, some of whom had only taken up gymnastics a year ago, did extremely well. 120 gymnasts from 22 clubs competed in various categories, and our six girls came back with a total of eleven medals - six golds, two silvers and three bronzes. We’re now looking ahead to taking part in a number of more international competitions next year as well as hopefully holding one here with the Olivia School of Gymnastics from the UK.
"It’s hard work but I love it and we’re open all year round, not just during schools terms. During the summer we’ve also got the summer camps going and they’re proving very popular. I have got 90 students of all nationalities from the age of four to 16 on my books but I also do classes for toddlers. They come with their parents and we set them a number of obstacles. Whether they take to gymnastics eventually or not, it’s a great way of helping babies with their coordination, strengthen them up and also get them active from an early age.
"And I guess that applies to the school in general. Not all of the students want to compete. We have three groups, one for those who come along to be with their friends and enjoy some exercise, a bit like an after-school club; a gymnastic group for those who have yet to decide if they want to compete or not; and the third is for the competitors who train for different lengths of time and more regularly than others. In the competitive group I have eight who are taking it very seriously, are already medal winners and want to try and pursue gymnastics further.
"What also helps is that some of my old colleagues and stars of the BBC’s Gym Stars come over and hold special workshops with me. That is always very exciting for the students. However, I take a rather different approach to training as the one I experienced. I’m much more relaxed, we all have a laugh, but I’m strict at the same time and the kids always know they can come to me.
"While I was training, I was also coaching; it is something I’ve always done and wanted to do. I guess in a way, because of what I achieved, I am a role model, and providing that has a positive effect on the students, I don’t mind. Those in the competitive group are encouraged to watch their diets, keep a training diary and also be independent when they come and train; they’ve all got great support from their parents, which is very important.
"There’s nothing worse than seeing a child who has a dream, a talent or simply wants to give something a try, especially sport, and be held back by their parents.
"I give Body Confidence talks to school children here and in the UK, and the main message is for kids to be comfortable with themselves. In this day of social media and obesity, I think there is far too much pressure on children. Some do get affected by it, although I wonder why a child aged five has access to social media, but that’s another issue. There is a big difference between kids here and in the UK. The attitude to studying, eating and sports, for example, is very different as are the consequences. So I aim to not only teach gymnastics but also help develop well-rounded children who can look forward to a bright healthy future."