For those that are around the San Jose State University athletics program and follow the Spartan women’s swimming and diving team in particular, it’s hard to miss noticing the bubbly Nicole “Nikki” Chapman around campus and on the pool deck. Not too many, though, are likely to be entirely aware of the tremendous challenges she has had to endure in attempting to complete her college career as a competitor, and not just a spectator.
Due to two freak incidents that have taken a major toll on her back, one a locker-room fall caused by an over-zealous teammate following a club practice while just 13 years old, and the other a serious car accident late in her senior year of high school, Chapman has had to fight through years of pain, tests, medication, needles, and frustration over the uncertainty surrounding her condition, to make it through to the final stages of her collegiate swimming career as a senior team co-captain for the Spartans this season.
A native of Diamond Bar, Calif., and 2004 graduate of Sonora High School in La Habra, Calif., Chapman credits her sister, Diana McDonald, for getting her started in swimming.
“My older sister used to swim, and I would always have to go to practice with her,” explains Chapman. “It was just one of those things. Oh, I want to be like my big sister.’ I happened to be an overweight little child, so my mom decided to put me in swimming to get some exercise. That’s how I got started. I’ve always looked up to my sister.
“I started competing when I was nine. My first swim meet was terrible. It was so sad. I had to swim the 100 butterfly. I had never swam butterfly in my life. It took me like three minutes to swim the whole thing. Normally, it takes about a minute, or a minute and 10 seconds. After that race, I told myself, I’m going to be so much better than this.’ I was determined. A year later, I swam the 100 butterfly in a minute and three seconds.”
A promising swimming career was derailed and Chapman’s life completely changed, however, by her fall on December 30, 1999. Though hurt badly at first, Chapman practiced the following day, and terms it, “the best practice of my life.” Later that night, on New Year’s Eve, the pain in her back that still exists in some form today, began.
“I had doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment, MRI after MRI, and nobody could tell me what was wrong,” says Chapman. “I tried swimming again, but it was really hard. I swam from January until June (2000), not knowing what was wrong with me, but still training, still going at it every day.
“It was finally figured out that I had a bulging disc pressing against the nerves in my back. To do sports in my condition, would not be a good idea, but I was told that swimming was the best exercise for your back, because there’s no impact, so I just took that and kept swimming. High school was hard. I missed out on a lot of things.