For someone who swims as naturally as senior All-American Nikki Daniels, it’s hard to believe her first experience with the sport was not love at a first swim.
“I hated it,” said Daniels emphatically. “I hated the water, but my parents wouldn’t let me quit. Eventually I warmed up to it when I was about nine.”
It took the Wichita, Kansas native a couple years to become fully immersed in the sport but when she did, she saw herself start to improve rapidly. Her hard work showed in a final qualifying meet for a zone competition where a young Daniels shocked herself.
“It happened when I was 10 at a meet and I cut seven seconds off a time in one race and made it to the zone meet,” said Daniels. “It was something I hadn’t even thought of before that. That’s when I thought ‘Oh wait, I can actually do this.’”
In high school, Daniels not only participated in swimming, but also played an integral role in the Wichita Northwest High School volleyball program. While it may seem like both sports have no correlation, Daniels improved not only physically but also with her mentality.
“It helped me mentally, because that whole season I would swim in the morning and then go do something completely different and use a whole different group of muscles. I can jump a lot higher than I ever would because I was a swimmer. It was really good for me mentally to have that balance.”
Balance became key when Daniels became a Razorback. With classes, practice and enjoying college life, Daniels learned at an early age how to divvy up her responsibilities.
By the time Daniels entered her sophomore year, the breaststroke-specialist had started to come into her own. To cap her sophomore campaign, Daniels touched the wall fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke in the 2013 NCAA Championships, earning not only a spot on the medal stand but also All-American status.
“I was just really, really surprised,” said Daniels of her accomplishment. “I looked over and the team was going crazy. They got on ESPN because they were cheering so crazily. That was the best part of it I think.”
Thanks in part to her All-American status and performance at the 2013 NCAAs, Daniels felt more confident in her following swims.
“I think it gave me a lot more confidence. I’m not necessarily a really competitive person. So that instilled in me an idea that I can race people, and that’s really helped me through the last two years. With the idea that if I decide that I want to, I can. I just hadn’t had that before.”
Daniels also discovered leadership qualities she never previously tapped into. During Leadership Academy, a seminar sponsored by the University Of Arkansas Department Of Student Athlete Success, Daniels learned about how to be a successful leader and ways to inspire her teammates.
“At leadership academy they teach you different things about how to be a leader,” said Daniels. “So I had been listening and thinking about what I can do better. They challenge you to try new things.”
The seminar pushed Daniels to lead her team, an effort that was recognized by her fellow Arkansas swimmers. In the spring of 2013, Daniels was named co-captain of the team.
“I’ve had to step into roles that I hadn’t previously been needed in,” said Daniels. “I’ve seen a whole another side of it and its helping me grow and figure out ways of motivating people and helping the team be better. It’s difficult, but really interesting.”
Daniels will continue to inspire her teammates as the Razorbacks embark on one of their toughest schedules to date. Along with training and leading the swimming and diving squad, Daniels will graduate early from the Bud Walton School of Business with a degree in marketing. Following graduation, Daniels will begin taking classes to achieve her Master’s in Business Administration. She plans on graduating in June of 2016 and returning to her family in Kansas.
But before she moves on from Arkansas, Daniels wants to help bring the Razorbacks to new heights in the 2014-15 season.
“I want to do things that we’ve never done before. I want to inspire my teammates to make this program something special.”