Nikki Stone '97 studied psychology at Union College before earning a master’s degree in sports psychology from the University of Utah. A 1998 Olympic gold medalist in aerial skiing, she now works nationally and internationally as a motivational speaker for corporate groups, nonprofits and schools. Nikki serves on five different philanthropic committees and raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation every year in support of her son, who has type 1 diabetes. For fun, she runs, mountain bikes, hikes, skis, travels and plays with her children.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
The most challenging thing about starting a career in speaking was the initial fear of presenting in front of an audience of thousands of people. It was very similar to aerial skiing in that they both really tested my nerves. But when I skied onto the in-run or stepped onto the stage, those fears would dissipate and the confidence in my endless hours of hard work always kicked in. I still get some excited nerves before I present in front of a large audience but the adrenalin that takes over is just as powerful as the exhilaration of performing a triple backflip. The most rewarding aspect of my job is when attendees come up to me afterwards and tell me that they want to change something in their lives because of something I said.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, I am inspired by a myriad of accomplished public speakers. I will often go to hear other friends and colleagues present, as I’ve found that you can gain something from everyone you listen to. Like being an athlete, watching others train and perform, someone may have an approach or skill that helps make you even better. To be the best, you can’t be satisfied with yesterday’s victories. I continually look for ways to enhance my skills. Personally, I am always inspired by my children. My son is incredibly brave and optimistic with his type 1 diabetes, despite taking multiple shots daily, monitoring every single thing that goes in his mouth and constantly being in fear of dropping into a diabetic coma. And my daughter is one of the most caring and empathetic people I’ve ever known. If I can be half as strong and compassionate as these two amazing little people, I will be way ahead of the pack.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
When I was competing, the International Skiing Federation told women that if they competed with triple backflips, they wouldn’t be able to have babies. I won the Olympics with a triple backflip and I had no problem giving birth to two beautiful children. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you are a woman! It might be a hard road at times but the rewards will be well worth it!
What was your most formative experience at Union?
Many of the classes that I took at Union encouraged us to present our work. I learned a great deal about how to effectively present my ideas in a cohesive manner that would be impactful for those in attendance. Union College also gave me the flexibility to be able to obtain a strong college degree while still pursing my goals of winning an Olympic gold medal.