Nikki Schlegel ’22: Pioneer athletics going swimmingly


Nikki Schlegel ’22, in her first year as a collegiate athlete, has made a mark in Pioneer swimming. Photo by Scott Lew.

Nikki Schlegel ’22 is from Boulder, CO and enjoys skiing, hiking, kayaking, writing, watching Oscar-nominated films and of course, swimming. At the Pioneer Classic last Friday, Schlegel accounted for three of the College’s four individual match victories. The S&B’s Will Dubow ’21 sat down with Schlegel to discuss her swim career.


The S&B: When did you first start swimming?

NS: I was born in Chicago, and there was this quarry by my house where I would go to swim with my parents. I was always in the water at a young age. When it came time to take the deep-water test … I failed. I could barely make it across the deep pool. But because of that it became motivation for me to get better and stick with it. My parents were always at the pool or at the beach, which wasn’t an actual beach — that’s what we just called it, so it was this environment that was I put in that helped make it my passion.

What made you want to be better at swimming?

I played a lot of different sports in addition to swimming, such as soccer, softball, track and karate, and decided that I should just focus on one sport. So I chose swimming because it was the most fun, since I was always outside. I started club swimming when I was 13 and I saw people on my team make junior nationals, so I was like “Oh my God, that is so fast.” And because of that I saw their hard work paying off and the ways they would train and decided that I wanted to do that. It was successive years of getting better and eventually it paid off.

When did you realize that swimming was your niche?

Nikki Schlegel ’22, in her first year as a collegiate athlete, has made a mark in Pioneer swimming. Photo by Scott Lew.

I was always tall for my age, I was born into an athletic family and compared to my peers I was developed more mentally and was able to swim fast at a young age. As I got older, people started to catch up to me. I’ve never been the fastest. In club meets I would rarely win, so I began to set pretty steep goals and actually achieved them … I was able to translate my work outside of meets and [was] being compared to people I look up to.

What’s it like to be a part of Grinnell College Swimming?

It is very different from what I am used to. Lifting is much more intense, practices are very different and purposeful and everything we do is for the end of the season for the big meet [Midwest Conference Tournament]. So I am practicing for two hours a day, as well as hour and a half lifts 3 days a week, so its not that much time, but we are very efficient with the limited time that we have. The team environment fosters success, everyone looks out for each other and we all want to make sure that we are aware of each other’s goals and want to push each other. In practice, we’ll race against each other that have closely similar speeds, so we can push each other in and out of the pool. The team is a very special environment and everyone is very genuine and approachable and a part of something that is greater than myself.

Is there any advice to young swimmers that want to pursue collegiate swimming?

You need to be aware of the bigger picture and how all your little swims … contribute to your championship times, since it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll have meets every week, then stretch moments, then you’ll have a final chance to prove yourself, so you need to make sure you’re keeping the end goal in mind and not get caught up in the moment. Also, remember that you should dwell on things for maybe five minutes after a race and move on, stay inside the present and do not get too inside your head. Utilize your teammates if you’re feeling out of it and make sure you are doing the sport you like, because it won’t be worth your time if you’re not having fun, especially at the collegiate level. Lastly, know that you’ll have a lot of responsibilities to balance in college and swimming, or your sport. [It] may be different from what you’re used to but expect that change, expect the transition, and use your resources to help you adjust the best you can.