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Q&A with Nevada's Nicola Ader, the most decorated athlete in program history

Nicola Ader
Nicola Ader won four All-American honors for Nevada this season. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

Despite just finishing her sophomore season, Nicola Ader is already the most decorated college athlete in Nevada women's track and field history. Ader earned four All-American honors this season, twice as many as any other Wolf Pack women's track and field athlete has earned in their entire careers. The German native won one second-team All-American award in the indoor season when she finished ninth in the long jump and added three more second-team honors in the outdoor season after placing 12th in the long jump, 13th in the heptathlon and 16th in the high jump.

For her accolades accrued this month, Ader is Nevada Sports Net's Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for June, an honor presented in sponsorship with Champion Chevrolet. Here is a portion of Ader's interview with NSN's Shannon Kelly.

NSN: When did you start competing in track and field?

Nicola Ader: I was almost 7 years old when I started. My coach back home also coached my dad when he was in his 20s or his teenage years. That’s how I got to know my coach. He’s known my family since I was a little baby.

NSN: What events did you start with?

NA: It’s common to start off with every kind of event. As a kid, you throw, you run, you jump and over time as you get older you figure out which ones you’re the best at and that’s the way you go if you want to be the most successful in one event. If you do it like me, you never know what event you’re best at and keep going with the multis.

NSN: Since your dad competed in track and field, is that why you go into it. Did you play any other sports?

NA: Before I started doing track, I did a little bit of gymnastics. Not on a high level, just for fun with a friend. After two years, I got into track and field because my oldest brother started doing track and my other brother started doing track, so we all went to my dad’s old coach and asked him if he’d take us.

NSN: How do you get in contact with Nevada?

NA: There are different agencies in Germany and Europe and they go to national championships and they ask athletes who score points if they’d be interested in a scholarship. Three or four years ago, that’s the first time I heard about that. From high school movies, I knew there were scholarships from athletes but I thought it was an American thing and only American athletes were offered that opportunity. I only knew that education here, the universities, were really expensive and I knew there was no way I could afford that since education in Germany is free. But the agency told me about this and I signed a contract with the agency and they would help me along the way step by step. As soon as you’re set, they create a profile of you that includes personal records, school records, your performances, pictures, videos, everything coaches need so coaches can see the profiles and if they’re interested in the athlete they send an email. If you respond to the email, you start getting recruited and you started emailing and Skyping. I met Coach Scott (Williamson) in Germany and was talking with him in person, which helped a lot. It was a really exciting but nerve-wracking experience. My English was not great. I was just hoping that he knew what I was saying and I understood what he was telling me. I was really nervous, but everything worked out well and now I’m here.

NSN: Was it in Germany where he offered you a scholarship?

NA: I first received an email and that included that I might be an athlete who could get a full scholarship. That’s something I really needed. Since education is free in Germany, there are no savings for education for me. That was really important. Since I knew that and was texting with him back and forth before I met him, that was already a really important point. It had to be that way or I couldn’t come. He offered me the full scholarship and the more I talked to him, the more comfortable I felt talking with him and the more I felt like it could be my future home. That was really important to me. I liked him as a person, I liked him as a coach and I’m really glad to be here. I definitely made the right decision.

NSN: Did you ever hear of Nevada before they contacted you?

NA: The state yes. But I never really got into getting to know different universities. Of course, everybody knows Harvard or Stanford. Those two universities, everybody knows them. Doesn’t really matter where you live. Other than that, I had no clue what it means to be at the University of Nevada or what it’s like. I also didn’t know of 99 percent of my other scholarship offers. I found a huge map of the U.S. at home and had it in my room and wherever I got an offer I had red little stickers and glued them on. Over time, I collected different offers and put the stickers on the map to know where it was. That was exciting.

NSN: What other schools offered you scholarships?

NA: Two offers in Michigan, two in Texas. Most of them were on the East Coast. They were in Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois. A bunch.

NSN: What were your first impressions when you got to Reno?

NA: I knew before that Reno had casinos. I had Googled that and had tried to get to know a little bit of the city. There was a German athlete here that I got in contact with and she sent some pictures of campus and was telling me about her experience. That was an important point to know where I was going. I fell in love with the campus and knew we were a match. I really liked it here. I never had a cultural shock. People asked me how different it was and it’s not that different. I’m in the U.S., but my daily life is practice, school and meeting up with my friends. I would be doing the same thing in Germany, but I’m just talking English. I got to know my teammates pretty quick and that gave me a good feeling. I have a lovely team, lovely teammates and without their support I couldn’t do it. It’s exciting. The transition was easy. So my first impression was still a little overwhelming. Even now if I close my eyes for a little bit and think about where I am right now, it’s sometimes mind-blowing: ‘Oh my goodness, I’m on the other side of the Earth right now.’ I love it here and can’t imagine being back in Germany studying there. This is my life now and I’d do the same thing over and over again if I got to decide now.

NSN: You never lifted weights in high school. What was that like when you had to do that here?

NA: I was awful. My first semester my freshman year with one or two other athletes, I started with all of the basics. I started lifting without any weight on it. I had the bar and did all of the cleans just to get the basic technique in. That’s really important for later when you lift heavier weights so you don’t get injured. That was a tough first semester. It was a situation under pressure. You want to be good. You see everybody next to you lifting a lot of weights and you’re just there lifting a plastic bar trying your best, but you know it’s just not right and there’s a lot you have to work on to start lifting. But I figured it out and it was actually fun and I’m looking forward to next year.

NSN: What's the toughest challenge on the track here compared to Germany?

NA: Practice is tougher. The workouts are tougher. I do a lot of running workouts. I do a lot of work on my 800s, which I didn’t do before. Every race I do I know the times and the touch downs and I never had that before. I watch a lot of videos and if the result isn’t what I wanted, I know what part wasn’t great. Here there are teammates who can kick your butt easily if you don’t perform well, but it pushes you all the time and makes you better with the competition you have.

NSN: What’s been the biggest difference between your freshman season and sophomore season?

NA: Definitely the mindset. In Germany, I competed only at a high level when it came to national championships. The season would start and I’d book my ticket for nationals. It’s not like you’re constantly battling every other athlete to get the final spot. In Germany, you can qualify in your first week of the season. There are marks you just have to hit to qualify. Here, you have to be in the top 24 in the outdoors or in the indoors top 16. There are prelims and you have to qualify there. It doesn’t matter what you did in the (regular) season, you have to do well in prelims. Even if you jumped the world record before, it doesn’t matter. My first competition here, even simple competitions, no championships, was already on a really high level. I did not expect that.

I was warming up for my first high jump meet and everybody was jumping as high as I did for warmups or higher. I was thinking, ‘Give me a break. What’s going on right now? That’s not normal.’ Here, it’s a whole different level with athletes performing so well. That kind of messed me up. Working with a sports psychologist really helped me. I started doing that after my freshman season. I really appreciate that, I really appreciate having that opportunity on campus. It’s free for all students. Our coaches recommended that, and I’m really glad she’s working with us on mindset and the mental state because that’s so important at such a high level to go to nationals, for example, and do your own thing and don’t think, ‘Oh, god, everybody is performing so well.’ Dealing with that pressure is now not as hard as it was last year. My freshman year, it was really hard and I didn’t handle it well and I felt it during competitions and the practice workouts. Now I can go out and show what I can do and show my level of performance and compete my heart out instead of hiding and thinking, 'Please, just don’t get last.'

NSN: How has having that additional pressure competing over here motivated you?

NA: It is really motivating. Everybody else always taught me that I should not put so much pressure on myself and I told them, ‘That’s what I need to perform well or improve.’ That’s the only thing that drives me. I don’t want to be last or in the top 50 percent. I want to be in the top 10 or in nationals in the top eight. Having this pressure around me to compete at the highest level is my biggest motivation. I really appreciate that and I’m even more glad that I’m here and can be in the right mindset and have this high level of performance and can compete with other athletes at this level who will help me get better at the next level.

NSN: What were you thinking of when you first stepped out there for nationals?

NA: Since I was talking with our sports psychologist, I definitely tried to be more relaxed than I usually am. I get hyped up pretty quickly and that can mess me up sometimes. You need to be pumped up. but as soon as you start rushing through you’re not going to perform well. My first though was to preform as well as I can rather than think of being in the top eight. Instead of racing others, I was competing against myself and my thoughts and trying to be in the moment. I was at nationals, the German nationals before, so I tried to stay in the moment and think back and say, ‘I belong here and I’m also one of them. I’m not a little sophomore who doesn’t belong here and is lucky to be here.’ I tried to have these positive thoughts and try to be proud of what I do instead of going back and hiding again. That was a battle against myself, but it was a really important experience I had for the upcoming years.

NSN: If you would have been told before this season you’d make it to nationals, would you have believed it?

NA: If anyone would have told me that before I probably wouldn’t have believed it. My big goal was to compete at NCAAs, but I did not expect it to happen this year. I knew I’d have chances, but I would have never guessed I’d qualify in three events. I probably would have laughed a little bit about that and said, 'All right. I’m not sure about that, but good for you.'

NSN: Having the most All-American honors in Nevada track and field history, has that set in with you?

NA: The moment I earned those titles or honors I was probably still a little disappointed. On the other side, I always need to remind myself that I did not except that to happen. My goal was to go out and compete really well and try my best. I learned three (events) in one week and it was not first-team All-American but second team is not bad. I’ll just try my best to get in the top eight next year and see that as motivation. Next year, I definitely want to have a first-team All-American. I have all this support, teammates, coaches, training staff, athletic trainer always behind me and pushing me to do well and cheering for me in everything. That means so much and is such a huge motivation to me to be in the top in the NCAA.

NSN: What did you learn from doing nine events (the heptathlon, which includes seven events, in addition to the open long jump and high jump) during nationals this year?

NA: That was a lot. I really tried to take one event at a time. I think I did a good job with that. It was really hot, the humidity was high. That kind of wore me down a lot the second day. It was a tough week, but everybody needed to deal with it, so I don’t want to make it an excuse. It was a long week. I know we’ll be in the same location next year (Austin, Texas). I’ll try to get better prepared for that by doing more running workouts in the heat and not wait for the sun to go down.

NSN: What goals do you have set in stone for next season?

NA: First-team All-American. Big goal. I definitely want to compete in one or two events. Definitely want to focus on less events than this year. Another goal is to have other teammates with me at NCAAs. I definitely want to be as supportive as they were last season, this season and always to me. I want to be a really good teammate. I want to cheer my heart out for them and make sure I have company next year so we can represent Nevada as a group and not as an individual.

NSN: How have your teammates helped you and how do you want to push them?

NA: Every single competition is one step closer to a big success. Even if it’s not a championship, always give them the feeling I support them. I’ll always be at the track cheering my heart out. I started texting them after competitions and taking my time on the plane or bus and instead of listening to music, I try to invest that time into my team. If there were good performances or not so good performances, I definitely try to motivate them. They’re teammates, they’re improving a lot. At Mountain West, you only see the points in the end, but sometimes you don’t see the (personal records) that you don’t get points for. Sometimes you see teammates not being happy about what they did even if their performances went really well. Just because somebody performed better doesn’t mean their performances weren’t good. I want to be a good teammate on the track and off the track and spend time with them and go out and compete as a team. As a team leader, we were talking with our team and want to do team (chemistry events) over winter break and we want to go out and be a team and represent Nevada as a strong family and not as individual athletes.

NSN: What’s your favorite event to compete in?

NA: That’s a tough question actually. The best is probably high jump, but that also means a lot of pressure is on that event. I really love hurdling, but on the other side it’s a high-pressure situation because you can mess it up in the first second. If you don’t get out of the starting blocks right, it’s tough to get a good time. Since I’m improving a lot in long jump right now, I really enjoy long jump.

NSN: What impact have your coaches at Nevada had on you?

NA: My coaches, they do a tremendous job. They spend a lot of work with me on the track and off the track. On the track, workouts that help me a lot. I know that different athletes sometimes need different workouts to get step by step closer to their goals. The workout we’re doing fits me really well. I’m really blessed with that. Off the track, they’re always there for me. Whenever I have questions or doubts, I know I can call them or send them a text message or stop by their office and say, 'Hi’ and they always take time and talk to me about whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be sports related. You feel like one big family. That’s something that’s really important to me.

NSN: What has been your most memorable moment at Nevada so far?

NA: Probably the most memorable moment at Nevada was in my freshman year at the indoor Mountain West championships when I got my first Mountain West title in the pentathlon. I still remember how I was super scared of the 800 and did not want to run. The 800 and me were not best friends and I was so scared. Having those amazing teammates and amazing coaches supporting me and cheering me four laps in this indoor facility around the infield that gave me a really good feeling. Sometimes people are cheering for you and turn around and say, 'I hope she’s not going to make it. I think every athlete has already experienced that, and you will experience that every single competition.’ They’ll say, ‘Good luck' and turn around and say 'I’m going to beat her.' On one side, it’s normal because it’s a competition. On the other side, there are also athletes who say, ‘You’re going to run this 800 and at the end of the day you’re going to be on the top of the podium.' Having those teammates is amazing. I don’t want to cry right now, but I could. My teammates are just the best. That’s something that I felt before the Mountain West indoors, but that’s the moment I started crying and bawling my eyes out because I could not believe how much love I receive here and how much they mean to me.

NSN: You’re only a sophomore but your legacy will be remembered in this program for a long time. What will that mean to you when you look back at your career?

NA: I think I didn't even realize that until now. You just said, 'I’ll be remembered here for a long time' and I thought, ‘Wow.' I’ve never heard that in such clear words before. I thought, ‘Maybe you’re right.' It definitely means a lot. Nevada gave me a lot and I want to give it back, and however I can do it I definitely want to compete and definitely want to do my best and definitely want to reach high goals. If that’s the way I can give back and show how thankful and blessed I am, I’m down for that.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

Previous Athlete of the Month honorees

May: Stephen Osborne, men's golf

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