Since the age of 6 Nikki Daniels has aspired to be a swimmer. It wasn’t because she thought it was cool or even that she enjoyed it. In fact, she didn’t even like the water or swimming in general. However, she didn’t want to be left out. Daniels’ family would bring her to all of her older brother’s swim meets and she was frankly just tired of watching from the stands.
After much pushing and prodding, her parents finally gave in. The 6-year old still hated the water and swimming, but she was no longer watching from the sidelines. It took Daniels until the age of 9 to actually enjoy swimming.
Fast-forward to the present day and Daniels is now a member of the University of Arkansas swimming and diving team and enjoying the opportunity to compete at the NCAA Championships after establishing herself as one of the fastest breaststrokers in college athletics this season.
At the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championship Daniels notched a 59.26 in the 100 breast for the ninth-fastest time in the country.
Daniels’ success this season may have come as a bit of a shock for the sophomore, but not if you ask her parents.
“They were really happy and really excited,” Daniels said of her parents’ reaction after she earned an NCAA automatic qualifier in the 100 breast. “I think they knew I could do it even if I didn’t.”
Prior to this season Daniels set just one goal, to break one minute in the 100 breast. She nearly did that in Houston, Texas, in November when she broke the Arkansas school record with a time of 1:00.12, but she accomplished her season-long goal at the SEC Championships with her ‘A’ Cut time of 59.26. Now Daniels says she isn’t quite sure what her next goal will be, but she does have one goal left to accomplish before her time is complete — become an All-American.
To become an All-American Daniels will have to post one of the top-16 fastest times in one of her four events she will be competing in, the 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 medley relay or the 400 medley relay. With NCAA’s kicking off on Thursday, March 21st , the sophomore’s goal could be reached anytime.
Daniels attributes her success this season to several different factors, the first is an increased focus on swimming. Last season she explains that it was tough to find a balance between school and swimming.
The second factor is the addition of new head coach Sean Schimmel. Daniels credits Schimmel’s new direction as a major reason she has been able to reach new heights in her swimming career.
“I think that we have had a lot more focus this year,” Daniels said. “Coach Schimmel has made sure to show us exactly why we are doing what we are doing. He has done well with mentally preparing us for the meet; if we can do it in practice then we can do it in the meet.”
With her new found success she feels much more confident entering the NCAA Championship. She also will have quite the cheering section in Indianapolis, with her family and the six other Razorbacks joining who also qualified for NCAA’s.
It’s safe to say the 6-year old Daniels would be happy she is no longer sitting in the bleachers.