Union Notables

Nikki Stone    class of 1995
Nikki Stone

Olympic gold-medalist Nikki Stone was born in Princeton, New Jersey on February 4, 1971. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Union College in 1995, and has a Master’s degree from the University of Utah in Sports Psychology.

Stone is a former Olympic aerial skier. Aerial skiing involves skiing at about forty miles-an-hour into a ten-foot snow jump, flipping and twisting at a height of approximately fifty feet, and then landing and skiing to the bottom of a steep hill. Nikki competed in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan and was the first American to win a gold medal in her sport. In her career, she has won thirty-five World Cup medals, eleven World Cup titles, four national titles, two year-long Aerial World Cup titles, and a World Championship.  She was also the first pure aerialist ever to become the year-long Overall Freestyle World Cup Champion. In 2003, she was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame.

What is especially impressive about Stone’s victory is that 18 months before her Nagano appearance, she suffered a career-threatening spinal injury and doctors said she would never walk again.  Years of repetitive impact had taken their toll on Nicki’s back, and two of the discs were seriously injured. Each of the ten doctors Stone visited told her she would no longer be able to ski.  The months that followed were hard on her and she went into a deep depression.  Nikki found inspiration in a poem by an unknown author titled You Must Not Quit, as well as in the story of Joe Frazier, who won an Olympic gold medal in boxing in 1964 with a broken thumb. “If he could win boxing with a broken fist, I could win skiing with an injured back” she said.

Finding a doctor who would work with her was not easy, but Stone found one who encouraged her to strengthen her back muscles in the hope that they might support the injured discs. Although a risky process due to the fragility of her disks, Stone wanted to try. She trained through the pain, not knowing if she would go too far, because there was such a delicate balance between strengthening the muscles to protect the damaged discs and causing further injury. Gradually, she began training to compete again, with an eye on the World Championship several months away.

“I had to dig deep to build my own confidence,” Stone says. And although she performed poorly during the competition, with members of the media predicting she would never stand on a winner's podium again, Stone was pleased she had gotten so far. “Although it didn't happen overnight, I realized that everything from that point forward was a bonus.” After all, doctors had told her she would never jump again and she was jumping. With less than a year to train for the next Olympic Games, Stone “stuck her neck out” and pushed toward her goal. She trained with intensity, consistently improving her strength, agility, and confidence, winning the 1998 gold medal for aerial skiing.

In January 2010, Stone released her book When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out. Her book intertwines her own story with those from other contributors, such as Shaun White, Tommy Hilfiger, Lindsey Vonn, Dr. Stephen Covey, and Prince Albert. She is also a contributor to Awaken the Olympian Within: Stories from America's Greatest Olympic Motivators (1999).

Currently, Stone is a motivational speaker, author, and a motivational coach for the new regional The Biggest Loser program in Wichita, Kansas. She has worked as a visiting professor at the University of Utah and a sports psychology consultant for several elite and Olympic athletics.