Feb. 12, 2009
By Larry Watts
Nikki White is cooking.
Whether it's in the pool or out, that's always good news for the Indiana University swim program.
It didn't take long for the 5-foot-11 freshman from Austin, Texas to make her mark on the on the women's record board for the Hoosiers. In the first major meet of the season, the three-day Hoosierland Invitational at the end of November, White erased three Hoosier marks, surpassing the NCAA "A" cut in one and eclipsing the "B" cut in the other two.
"I hit the pool for the 500-yard freestyle in the morning session of the first day and my time was normal for in season," she says. "Then for the evening session, I suited up in my laser and I felt really good. I thought my time was around a 4:43 or 4:44, but when I looked at the board I was in shock."
White's winning time of 4:36.61 not only erased the 500 record for the Hoosiers, but was nearly two seconds under the "A" cut of 4:38.6.
"I wasn't expecting to swim that fast at all that early in the season," she says. "I just yelled out 'Holy (shoot).' That really pumped me up for the next two days."
Hitting the pool for the second day, White posted a record time of 1:46.28 in the 200 free, besting the "B" cut by nearly two seconds and leaving her just over two seconds shy of the 1:44.02 needed for the "A" cut.
And on the third day, her record swim of 16:07.39 in the 1650 free was over 24 seconds better than "B" qualifying time. She will need a 15:53.38 at the Big Ten Championships (Feb. 19-21 in Ann Arbor, Mich.) or at the Last Chance Meet one week later to make the "A" cut.
"The 200 wasn't my best time, but it was pretty good for me without tapering," she says. "I dropped seven seconds off my best time in the mile and I was pretty happy with that since I usually swam the mile only twice a season, at the beginning and at the end, when I was swimming with my club (Longhorn Aquatics) in Texas.
"The 500 and 200 are usually my best events; the mile isn't a fun race, but the coaches make me do it. I used to have a lot of problems with the mile during age group. Either my cap or goggles (sometimes both) would fall off during the race. I haven't had that problem lately, so either my head grew or I started wearing better goggles."
According to White, having already made the "A" cut for the NCAA meet has "taken a big load off my shoulders" for the Big Ten Championships. "Now I can just focus on racing and getting points for my team," she says. "My goal was to go under 4:40 for the 500, so now that I have already reached it, my new goal is 4:30. I'm not expecting that to happen this year, I may have to wait another year or two."
But since the Hoosiers are in the middle of a three-week taper for the postseason, there is a good chance she can move up in both the 200 and 1650.
"We started dropping our yardage in our workouts at the beginning of the second semester," she says. "The main sets of our workouts are still very intense and I think we have a very good shot at winning the Big Ten title."
White lived in Florida until she was 14, when she moved to Austin to join the Longhorn Aquatics and she lived with a host family for nine months before her mother also made the move. One of her club coaches during her first two years was Donny Brush, who would eventually move on to become an assistant coach at Indiana University, where he has been for the past four years.
When it came time to research colleges, Indiana wasn't even in the picture. White's heart was set on attending Texas, Auburn or Georgia.
"I had to contact all of them and I don't mean to sound greedy, but none of them offered me money (a scholarship)," she says. "But I kept getting this mail from Indiana and my mother had remained friends with coach Brush. So the only recruiting trip I took was to Indiana and they offered me a scholarship.
"I really enjoyed my visit to Indiana. I'm not a big city girl; I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Florida. The small town atmosphere (in Bloomington) really appealed to me. And I really liked the idea that both the men and women hold their practices together instead of having separate practices.
"I remember seeing a shirt when I was in age group. On the front, it said, 'When I was younger, I had to choose between cheerleading and swimming.' And on the back, it said, "It was either practicing with a bunch of sweaty girl jocks or with guys wearing Speedos.' So this was an extra bonus."
In the summer before coming to Indiana, White competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials, taking ninth in the 400-meter free, 12th in the 800 free and 31st in the 200 free. She still holds the Texas state record for the 500 free.
Away from the pool, she has a passion for photography, watching movies and baking.
"I've really gotten into landscape photography and I'm developing my pictures for the first time," she says. "I like taking pictures of old run-down wooden buildings. I think they are really cool."
Every Sunday she can be found watching movies or over at a friend's house baking.
"My moods for movies are always changing," she says. "It might be a chick flick, action, a mystery or a thriller. I like horror movies a lot, I'm a big fan of the "Saw" movies.
"And if I'm not watching movies, I'm making really good cookies, and that's not an overstatement. Baking is one of my favorite things to do. I just made one of our coaches a pecan pie for his birthday. My favorite cookie is made with sugar dough, Reese's Pieces and Heath Bars, and it apparently is everyone else's favorite as well.
"But I don't bring the cookies to every meet, I'm not that nice," she adds. "I make cookies for people who are nice to me. I made cookies once for one of the guys on the team so he would fix my computer. I'm a big believer in bribery."
White is so involved in her photography and baking that she is thinking about the entrepreneurship program in Indiana's business school.
"I'm going to open my own bakery or photo studio, but I haven't decided which one yet," she says. "I think it would be really fun to have my own bakery. I can decorate the bakery with my pictures and sell them to people!"
Whatever she decides, White plans on cooking up some good times while she's at Indiana.