Doing the Best That You Can Do: This is What Student-Athlete Nikki Van Noord Has to Say

Nikki Van Noord is that girl. She’s beautiful, she’s funny, she’s intelligent, she dances, and she swims on the McGill Varsity team as well as coaches the Masters team. She also manages to keep a very active social life, constantly meeting and wowing new people - including myself. I sat down with her to talk about how she does it. 

Sophia Perring for HerCampus McGill: How much time do your extracurriculars take up in your week?

Nikki Van Noord: So, swimming is twenty-two hours a week on average. I would say it’s 20 hours a week in the pool - but there’s a lot of prep that goes into it; I’m always a little bit early, stretching and doing activation on deck before and after practice. I coach as well, which is three hours a week, plus an hour of administration work. The times that I coach are right after times that I’m swimming so I just hop out of the pool and I’m able to start working right away. I also work three hours at the sports shop at McGill which is a nice extra three hours of income that I get per week. This is on top of school  - Materials Engineering - which, after a year, I’ve come to realize is a little bit of a rough degree.  It’s got a lot of labs and lecture hours - especially the four-credit courses (which have one-hour extra lecture per week). So my weekly schedule is a little bit hectic. 

HC McGill: Was your new schedule a shock when you joined Varsity swimming?

NVN: My entire career leading up to this was me doing a lot of swimming, doing a lot of school and at that, not living close to school or swimming. I would have two or three hours of driving to do in a day, to and from all of my activities. It prepped me very well for university. Also, now that I’m living between the pool and all my classes, those two or three hours lost in a car become hours I can use to study, get organized, meal prep or just focus on getting ready for swimming and classes. That extra time in the day has been helping me immensely this past year. So, I can say that I was very well prepared for what this experience has brought me so far. 

HC McGill: So then what would you say, based on what you’ve been able to accomplish, to the people who say that they don’t have time for extracurriculars and how do you get through it?

NVN: Well, it’s all very personal. Everybody has their own ways of dealing with problems and stress. I feel though that if you have that burning fire for something, that passion and love for a sport or a job, you’re going to want to do it no matter what the cost. So if you have that goal in mind, not only in terms of the end goal but also the stepping stone goals along the way, you know that no matter how hard it gets or how difficult balancing it all gets, your outcome is going to be positive. Ultimately, you’ll know you’re doing the absolute best that you can do every single day. 

When I have a rough day at school and have say, a bad exam and I feel that I’m going to fail it or know that I didn’t do as well as I should have, I always get onto the pool deck that night ready to swim regardless of how sh*tty my day went. Vice versa; If I have a really shitty practice, I’m still going to go home and do my homework. I won’t just weep about it all night. When you have a day where you did badly in school and you come onto the pool deck ready to work and to give it all you’ve got anyway, you know that you did the best that you could do for that day. You’ll then have that uplifting moment where you’re not feeling too overwhelmed - as much as it is a very overwhelming schedule and life that I have chosen to live, it’s something I know that I won’t regret having done. I know that I’ll thank myself later for having put myself through this experience because it’s what i really want to do and it’s what I want to accomplish with my life. 

HC McGill: This incredible mentality that you have, do you think it is something that the people around you have encouraged you to do? How dependent is it on the people you surround yourself by? Are there people who have pushed you to do this in your life?

NVN: Definitely, a huge part of it is having an incredible support system. I don’t think I could ever thank the people who support me enough. My support system consists of friends, family, teammates, coaches and even profs. It’s the little things that your support system tells you on your day to day that inspires you and motivate you. I also don’t think I’d be able to get through it without my teammates. All these people on my team going through the exact same thing that I’m am and also being able to do it is so inspiring. As much as some people may struggle more than others, you’re uplifting each other in a way that’s really incredible. At swimming, your times may be done individually, but it’s really a team sport. You’re there to work hard and you’re there to do it next to other people who are working just as hard as you are. After a practice, though you may have done worse than someone else, you know that you put in your 100% just like they did. That’s a great feeling. My classmates also constantly uplift me, even with little things on a day to day basis. Sometimes it’s a friend helping out with homework, sometimes it’s just chatting before and after class. Sometimes it’s not even close friends; sometimes it’s simply an acquaintance who, though they’re not on a varsity team, are doing that core thing that you’re doing and getting through it at the same pace that you are. 

HC McGill: What are your dreams and ambitions now?

NVN: I think I still have a couple years left of doing this. I’ve recently decided that I want to take five years to do my bachelors instead of the usual four so that I’m able to use that last year of eligibility for varsity sports - You’ve got five years where you can compete for a varsity team and i think that adding that extra year of swimming will be really beneficial to me. Also, being able to spread out my degree a little bit more will allow me to take more time to focus on the things that I love while also allowing me to accomplish them to the best of my abilities. Right now, my focus is getting through those three-four years without putting too much pressure on myself to decide what I want to do afterwards. I think the more opportunities that I give myself in the next couple years, the more choices I’ll have at the end of the day. That’s what I think it’s all about - how many opportunities you give yourself that’ll make you feel passionate and inspired. All these small opportunities that come can be accomplished with a bigger goal in mind. Right now I don’t have a big goal or life plan set out for me but I do have two-three-four year plans… For example, I want to get my nationals for swimming this year and then hopefully next year my Olympic trial times. It’s all small goals right now that can build up to bigger things. I’m taking it one step at a time, day by day, knowing that the little things count as well.

My coach very recently showed me a quote about talent: You require zero talent to do the small things that uplift you. These small things are as simple as showing up on time, having a work ethic, being focused, being prepared, having positive body language and energy, being coachable, being organized, having a positive attitude and putting in the effort to be the best you can be. You can think that living a life like this requires all the talent in the world and that it’s too difficult, but at the end of the day, the things that make my life work and my life interesting, are the things that don’t require talent. Instead, they require dedication, hard work and passion. I think that’s how I’ve been able to succeed in the challenges that have come my way. You don’t need a special talent to balance the things that you love - once you love something and there’s something you really want to accomplish, nothing’s going to stand in your way. 


Images provided by interviewee's instagram: @nikki_vannoord