COLLEGE SWIMMING: Nikolski Sisters Find Success With Misericordia
DALLAS — It would be tough for Grace Nikolski’s first two years swimming for Misericordia to have gone any better. She won a lot of races and became a four-time Middle Atlantic Conference champion.
But personally, Nikolski’s junior season has been even more rewarding.
Not just in wins or championships, but the fact that she was reunited with her sister Mary-T, who joined the Misericordia swim team as a freshman.
“It’s been a lot more fun for me,” Grace Nikolski said. “I did get used to being on my own my first two years, but it’s really nice having her back with me. We’ve been training together and pushing each other for over 10 years now. It’s just really nice having her there. Even though we do train for different events, it’s nice having her there especially for the meets to keep everything relaxed.”
Instead of it being a foregone conclusion the sisters from Poughkeepsie, New York, would reunite, Mary-T admitted to some initial hesitation about coming down to Misericordia just for that reason.
“It’s actually the reason I didn’t want to come here at first,” Mary-T Nikolski said with a laugh. “But then I ended up coming here on an overnight trip and I was like, ‘I think I would really like having Grace here with me.’”
Mary-T has been swimming for 13 years, Grace for 15. After so much time together, the younger Nikolski said there was a part of her that wanted to break away, but the sisterly bond eventually proved too strong.
“I was with Grace pretty much everywhere, especially with swimming, and I know she did so well in swimming, so I didn’t want to come in and be the little sister,” Mary-T said. “I just didn’t want both our names to be together but I came around. It felt like home having her here. I feel like it would’ve been weird not having her with me.”
Grace has been more than willing to pass on any advice she can.
“I try not to overstep, but there are little things I’ve learned having been here two years that I thought were good pieces of advice to pass on,” she said. “Things you figure out on your own, but you don’t necessarily need to figure out on your own.”
Mary-T said the biggest advantage to having Grace around has been helping her relax.
“That has been a huge help to calm my nerves just knowing she’s there,” Mary-T said. “I’m used to having her there with me all the time. Especially during swim meets because I get a little anxious. It’s a big help to have my sister with me.”
There’s very little direct competition between the two, with Mary-T being a freestyle specialist and Grace primarily swimming individual medley and breaststroke — all four of her conference titles have come in breaststroke events.
But even while they may be practicing in different areas of the pool, just like they have most of their lives, the sisters still push each other.
“We train together, work together. We’re used to it,” Mary-T said. “It’s a little weird because I’m not in her lane anymore, but before we’d train together all the time and push each other.”
“She’s definitely much better than me at freestyle so I’ve always tried to keep up with her and that’s made me a better athlete,” Grace added. “Especially because she’s my younger sister and I can let her beat me, even though she does.”
The two will be a big part of the Misericordia contingent competing this week at the MAC championships, starting Thursday and running through Sunday at the Graham Aquatic Center in York.
A veteran of the conference championships, Grace Nikolski is looking forward to another “fun” event.
“I’m really excited for it. It’s still as exciting as it was freshman year even though it’s the third year going into it,” she said. “It’s just a really fun atmosphere and the competition is going to be really good. We’ve all trained really hard. Every time I go to race, I just focus on enjoying the race. That’s kind of the mindset I’m in right now, just go and have fun.”
She swam to two titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke her freshman year. Last year she again won the 100 and was co-champ in the 200. But she’s not relying on past successes to carry her back to the top of the podium.
“The conference is full of really talented athletes,” she said. “Anything can happen, everybody’s been training hard. Just go in there and race as hard as I can. I try not to think about what’s happened past years because every year is different.”
Getting ready for her first conference championship, Mary-T has put everything she has into making it a fruitful experience.
“I’ve put in a lot of work in coming into the championship,” she said. “I’ve probably worked harder than I ever have in my life. I’m really hoping it pays off.”
Mary-T is anxious to make her own name with a strong performance this week, but uses her older sister as an example of what is possible.
“I don’t know if I can live up to what Grace has made,” Mary-T said, “but it is fair to think, ‘This is what Grace has done, this is what I can do. If Grace can do it, I can do it.’”
Whatever happens for Mary-T this weekend and in the future, she knows she’ll always have her sister with her.
“It’s a built-in support system,” Mary-T said. “I never feel alone because I know that wherever I go, whatever I do, I always have Grace to support me in every decision I make. She’s my rock.”
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Getting to know Mary-T Nikolski
Favorite Athlete: Nathan Adrian
Favorite Netflix Show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Dream Car: Jeep Wrangler in a cool color
If you could travel anywhere, where would you want to go: Ireland.
At the end of Titanic, could Rose have saved Jack: I think Rose could’ve moved over a little bit, but I don’t know if there was any hope for Jack.
Getting to know Grace Nikolski
Favorite Athlete: Lilly King
Favorite place to eat in town: CK’s Cantina
What brought you to Misericordia: I really liked their DPT program and when I set foot on campus the first time it felt like home.
Favorite out of swimming hobby: Zumba
What reality TV show would you want to go on: “The Jersey Shore”