Photo: Peter Power
A Serena Williams super fan’s inspiring life story is coming full circle at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.
Francilia Odame grew up on Shoreham Drive, in the Jane and Finch community, a stone’s throw from the site of NBO22. A massive fan of Serena Williams, she brought two of her young daughters to the tournament to #FeelTennis, and for possibly their last chance to see Williams in action in Toronto. Growing up in the low-income neighbourhood, Odame developed a passion for education and now teaches at an elementary school in the community. She’s over the moon that the tournament is taking place in her own backyard.
“This is my neighbourhood, and to see an event like this being held here, it just draws me to tears,” said Odame who also runs a successful event design company. “It’s phenomenal. I hope to bring more children from inner cities to come and see this and get exposed to it in their own neighborhood and community… We’re also obsessed fans of Serena. Because she’s retiring, of course, we wanted to make sure we came to show support.”
Attending the tournament Wednesday with her four-year-old daughter Sariyah and five-year-old daughter Serena, the family took in the sites and fun family activities on the event grounds before heading to Centre Court to watch Williams practice ahead of her evening match against Belinda Bencic. Odame and her husband have five children in all and carefully choose each child’s name, to represent something meaningful to them. Both boys’ names start with the letter ‘J’ and the three girls of course have the ‘S’ theme. You might have already guessed who inspired the moniker of their five-year-old.
“I always name my children after somebody who inspires me or someone who we can relate to as a family,” said Odame who is currently on mat leave after giving birth to a son six months ago. “Just knowing (the Williams family’s) story, where they come from and what they’ve been able to attain, it just reminds me of my own strength. That’s what made me name my daughter Serena. Just to let her know that you can achieve anything. Knowing who the Williams are and what they’ve been able to achieve, it’s just unbelievable.”
Odame’s family immigrated to Canada from Ghana in West Africa when she was six years old. She became interested in tennis in a search for greater self-discovery in her youth. Not being exposed to tennis growing up she was inspired by the Williams sisters to give it a try while attending York University. Odame developed a love for the game and continues to play today. Her daughter Serena just started playing and Sariyah will begin next year. Odame whose floral production company, Dream Creations Designs, is based in Mississauga, ON says seeing the Williams family’s success helped her to know what’s possible.
“Just seeing where I came from with my immigrant parents growing up in the hood to becoming a teacher in this neighborhood and being able to run a multimillion dollar business has been phenomenal for me,” said Odame. “To be able to build and accomplish and achieve your dreams is remarkable.”
Odame’s children learned about the Williams sisters from the 2021 biographical sports drama, King Richard, starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, Venus and Serena Williams’ father. The legendary Williams siblings who between them have a total of 30 Grand Slam wins, executive produced the movie. Their young fan knows exactly what she loved most about the film.
“Everything,” said the five-year-old Serena.
Odame says she brought her daughters to see the legend and glean what they can get from her story. Wearing beads in their hair at NBO22, reminiscent of the Williams sisters in their youth, Odame says her daughters’ hair dos were not her decision.
“They choose their own hairstyles,” laughed Odame. “This is not my doing. They loved the movie and said, ‘I want my hair like that.’”