2017 Pac-12 Swimming (W) & Diving (M/W) Championships

Event: Feb. 22-25 | Federal Way, WA

2017 Pac-12 Swimming (W) & Diving (M/W) Championships: Stanford's Nicole Stafford shows how to 'Never give up'

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Federal Way, Wash. – Perseverance is a word you hear associated with Nicole Stafford quite a bit.

“Her mentality of never being denied – that’s how she swims,” Scott Anderson says of Stafford. “Without that will I think she would’ve given up.”

Since high school, Stafford has been swimming with a condition that has baffled everyone from doctors to trainers to her parents and coaches. It began with difficulty breathing after a race, and progressed into full-body tremors. No one could figure out just what was causing it, other than swimming – the thing she loved to do most.

Stanford trainer Scott Anderson knows Stafford’s case better than anyone.  

“Essentially I’ve been with her every day since she came to Stanford four years ago. We’ve worked really well together, and we’ve learned how to communicate with each other. She’s really learned the level of work it was gonna take in order for this condition to get under control…I think she would agree that we have a very close bond.”

Initially, Stafford was unsure if she’d be able to keep her scholarship to Stanford, but head coach Greg Meehan reached out and reassured her that she could for at least her freshman year.

But was it worth it? To swim through all the pain and uncertainty?

It was something that Stafford had to seriously consider.

“I think there were times when she questioned it,” Anderson says. “And she had really hard times where she just didn’t know, looking forward, thinking ‘Am I gonna have to do this every single day that I swim for three straight years?’

But it’s that will and that drive and that inner spirit of wanting to achieve her goals that really pushed her to not give up on this.”

She worked alongside Anderson to figure out a way to manage the pain – not always something that was clear or easy.

Andersen explains that when Stafford first came to Stanford, there was a lot of trial and error in trying to figure out how to manage her condition. Recovery times could take upwards of 90 minutes, and by then Nicole was too exhausted to get back in the pool.

Eventually, through continued hard work, they established a technique that worked for her – cooling her down with ice after a race.

“[I think it] gave her a piece of mind to know that this condition could be managed and that she could continue to be normal like everyone else on the team, and to swim and train like she wants to.”  

The sky was the limit for the senior, as she proved in her performance during the 2017 Pac-12 Swimming (W) & Diving (M/W) Championships.

“To go two 500 [freestyle], which an event she never really swam before she came to college – and she did a best time [Thursday morning] and did another best time [Thursday night],” head coach Greg Meehan said. “It’s pretty grueling.”

Stafford also finished first in her heat in the 200 butterfly on Saturday night – yet another new event for the senior.

She credits her teammates for pushing her to new limits.

“These guys are just supporting me all the way, they’re behind my lane trying to help me get out of the pool and everything like that.”

Saturday night, the Cardinal raised the banner and celebrated as Pac-12 Champs, and Stafford was there in the middle of the celebration with the biggest smile on her face.

As her four years at Stanford come to a close, what’s the biggest thing she’s learned?

“Never give up.”