National Team Teammates to Reunite, Dzurko Returns to Collegiate

by Alyssa Jacobs, USA Artistic Swimming

Seven national team members departed for college last fall, saying goodbye to a team camaraderie and incredible journey they experienced together on the quest for Olympic qualification. While they fell just short of the qualification they had hoped for, their comeback story, performance and resilience inspired the world of artistic swimming. The squad that worked together to put USA back on the map now own the most-watched video on FINA’s social media pages, an impressive feat for a sport that often gets minimal mainstream exposure. The video owns over 130 million views and their legacy lives on.

These seven athletes decided to pursue an education while swimming for three collegiate institutions at The Ohio State University, Stanford University and University of Incarnate Word. Once teammates competing for a common goal, next week they will meet and face off as competitors. 

In the case of Nikki Dzurko, she chose to take a step towards her ultimate goal of competing at the Olympics by sacrificing a year of on-campus instruction to join the national team program in northern California. Her teammates and coaches described her as selfless, technically advanced and destined for remarkable things. She chose to return to her life as a Buckeye this season and finish her degree and then eventually rejoin the talent program to realize her goal. 

Nikki’s collegiate career was off to a hot start before the pandemic hit. In her freshman season in 2019, she was crowned solo, duet and team champion, helping Ohio State to another Overall Institution Championship. Her next year was halted by the cancellation of the event due to the pandemic and she trained with the national team during last year’s collegiate season. Dzurko, studying Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability and helping that athletic department towards a more sustainable future, makes an impact wherever she goes. She felt completely supported by her college family when taking the leap to train with the national team and serve as tech soloist at multiple international competitions. 

Ohio State is a special place for athletes - The school has resources and structures that really accommodates the needs of student-athletes. It makes me feel equipped to handle the demands of both school and my sport with confidence,“ she said of her experience and what it took to balance remote learning with national team training. 

It is a well-known fact that the members of last Olympic cycle’s national team went on a turbulent journey throughout the pandemic with cancellations, postponements, training complications and eventually narrowly missing their goal. While Nikki was unable to compete in the team routine due to selection procedures, she played a huge role in the team dynamic and improved individually during her time on the squad. Her experience under Andrea Fuentes on the national team helped her to elevate her training mentality.

The biggest lesson I learn last year is being intentional. I was only able to get better when I was able to have intent for everything I was doing no matter the significance,” Dzurko said. “Of course, I am really proud of everything our team accomplished but I am also proud of the personal progress I made. I was in a position I had never been in before and I think because of it I pushed my limits and I learned how to adapt to any situation.”

As an integral athlete on her collegiate team, Nikki will be competing in solo, duet and team. She has shown her dominance in these categories in previous years and will now be bringing everything she learned on the national team back to the program. 

Our team really wants to show the growth that has been able to happen after two years of uncertainty and disruption. There is always going to the goal of winning, but above all else we want to show our teams unity, strength, and passion,” she said of this year’s goal. 

As far as competing against her previous teammates, Nikki is excited to see them but knows the drill when it comes to competing against friends. She will be competing alongside two former teammates in Hannah Heffernan and Ruby Remati and against Lindi SchroederNicole GootAbby Remmers and Paige Areizaga

I have had lots of experience competing against former teammates from growing up doing both club team and national team. I am going to give it my all when I compete, but at the end of the day regardless of the results, I will still be close friends with my past teammates.”

Nikki is now more motivated than ever to be a part of getting USA back to the Olympics. She has big dreams for when she completes her degree, but also does not want to define her success by one singular goal: “Coming so close to achieving my Olympic dreams after originally letting go of that has rekindled the fire inside of me,” she said. “But I also think results-based goals in this sport are difficult to rely on, so ultimately I know I want to compete on the world stage again and push myself to become an athlete that inspires others.”

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