After she competed for Canada in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, it seemed she had accomplished everything she wanted to in her gymnastics career and was unsure whether or not she wanted to continue to compete on the international level or go elsewhere.
Ultimately, however, she realized she wasn’t ready to give up the sport and inquired about coming to Utah. Luckily for both sides, the Red Rocks had an available scholarship and were more than happy to offer it to the former Olympic athlete.
But the transition wasn’t easy for Damianova. She had competed on gymnastics’ biggest stage, it was somewhat difficult for her to understand what college athletics consists of in terms of training, rivalries and competitions. For example, she had to get used to the fact that she’d be competing every week instead of just once or twice per month. Add to that the fact that English was her third language, and her path to feeling comfortable was rocky.
“All of those things, to me, made for quite a transition, which sometimes here at Utah, the transition takes a little longer,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “I would say that’s true with Nansy. The good thing was that she was talented enough that she was contributing throughout her time with us.”
One person who helped Damianova with her transition was teammate Gael Mackie. The two had both competed under the Canadian flag in the Olympics, Mackie in 2004 and Damianova in 2008. They were roommates in 2011, and Damianova credits Mackie for helping her adjust to life in the United States.
Mackie also appreciated the relationship.
“I call her my little sister, and she calls me her big sister,” Mackie said. “That’s the kind of relationship that we had … Everything is a bit different here, so it was helpful for her to have a mentor to sort of show her the ropes a little bit. I’m so grateful I had her, too. It was like family down there … it was a bond that both helped us compete better and be a bit happier.”
One concept Mackie helped Damianova grasp was being part of a team, something neither of them really had to do at the international level.
“I used to be home and didn’t really have a team … [it was] very individual,” Damianova said. “Something that I had a hard time getting used to was being in a team. I think just finally understanding how it is, I think that’s something I’ve really embraced. Just being able to share success with other people and not just competing for yourself and hoping you do well, but hoping your teammates do well. We’re all so happy for each other.”
Corrie Lothrop, who came into the program the same year as Damianova, could tell the transition was hard on her teammate, saying Damianova was rather reserved during her first couple of years at the U. While the rest of the gymnasts who joined the Red Rocks that year were more team-oriented, Damianova had her own way of going about things.
But as the years have gone on, Lothrop has noticed a change in Damianova.
“I don’t know what it is, but she just has been much more part of the team and more interactive with all of us,” Lothrop said. “I guess maybe it’s just growing up and maturing and understanding that this is a huge team sport and that even though we do our routines as individuals, it’s always about the team, and I think that’s been the thing she’s really understood these past couple of years.”
While Lothrop thinks Damianova has matured throughout her years at Utah, co-head coach Greg Marsden believes she was so reserved in the first place because she was more mature than some of the other incoming freshmen at the time. Marsden has been particularly impressed with the way Damianova has taken her academic career seriously. She has made the Dean’s List and Athletic Director’s Honor Roll every year she has been at Utah.
“Her education is very important to her, and she is very well prepared for that,” Marsden said. “English is her [third] language, but she does exceptionally well in school.”
As Damianova nears the end of her career at Utah, what seemed to be an arranged marriage at first has turned into a mutual feeling of love and respect between her, the coaches and her teammates.
“She’s kind of gone from waiting until the last meet to now, she’s not so anxious to go home,” Marsden said. “She likes it here. It’s been a great transition.”
With at least one more meet to go in her collegiate career, Damianova, who scored a perfect 10.0 on her very last floor routine in the Huntsman Center, will miss representing the U and has certainly left an impression on the program.
“She’ll be missed by her senior class, but I think her gymnastics will be extremely missed,” said Megan Marsden. “Her basic gymnastic elements that she was taught when she was six years old are second to none … We will miss that, our fans will miss that, and that is difficult to replace.”