Focus & Efficiency, the Key to Excellence as a Student-Athlete - Nicole Rajicova's Journey
AV Alumni, Nicole Rajicova is a two-time Olympic figure skater, who managed to combine earning a degree from Fordham University while being a world-class figure skater.
Since the age of 3, I’ve always felt the most at home at the ice rink. Early on, the constant feeling of flow and freedom was enough to keep me begging to come back to the rink each and every day. As I got older, I loved the sense of accomplishment I felt with each new skill I mastered, from learning how to glide on one foot, to learning my first spin, to landing the most difficult triple jumps. The endless opportunity to learn more and improve what I could already do, compelled me back to the rink every day.
As much as my younger self would have loved to spend her time joyously skating all the time, she also had to attend school. Indeed, my education was always emphasised, and skating was considered secondary, as my parents told me that if I came home with poor grades, I wouldn’t be allowed to go to practice. Even as school became more difficult, I didn’t want to give up any time I devoted to skating, so I did what I could to excel at both. Figure skating is a very demanding sport, so it is very common for figure skaters to turn to homeschool, so they can dedicate the majority of their time to training. However, I really enjoyed going to school, and again, school was always the priority for me. As training ramped up and my skating became more serious, I appreciated the outlet school provided. Not only did I have to switch my focus to things completely unrelated to my time at the rink, but I also really enjoyed learning and speaking to people who did not know my life outside school.
In 2013, I graduated high school, I decided to take a gap year before starting university and spent the rest of the year solely training for the 2014 Olympic Games. Without school in the mix, my entire life revolved around training. After about two months, I realised something was lacking – and it was affecting my training for the worse. I realised I was much less productive because I wasn’t pressed for getting things done efficiently – essentially, I had all day every day to devote to training, but my mind wasn’t used to that so I wasn’t able to focus as well as I would have wished. I noticed this all retrospectively, as I did end up qualifying for the games, but knew innately that I wasn’t functioning to the peak of my ability.
It wasn’t until the following season during which I made significant leaps in my results. This time of improvement also happened to coincide with when I started attending university. I chose to study International Business, with a focus on finance and mathematics, because I’ve always enjoyed the definitive and precise nature that comes with working with numbers. This precision followed me in my daily life, as I had to run from class to skating, then back to class, and then back to another training session - this forced me to be extremely disciplined. If I knew I had exactly 45 minutes to train and not a minute more, I would utilise every last second to the fullest. In a sport that requires consistency and perfection, strictly limited training time taught me to minimise mistakes. I was able to develop very effective training sessions and ultimately learned how to be extremely efficient. This all helped me not only improve, but also deliver great performances at competitions when the pressure was high.
Skating also taught me to welcome criticism. The only way for an athlete to improve is to fix their mistakes, and a coach’s role is to highlight those mistakes and guide the athlete in the right direction. It was second nature to go back to a coach for a correction. At school, or even now at work, I welcome feedback – and if it doesn’t come immediately, I seek it out. With this, I also know that I can never leave something incomplete. The worst feeling on the ice was leaving practice unaccomplished. Even on a bad day, I felt that I needed to do everything possible to correct my errors and be as productive as I could be. This mentality most definitely translates to my studies, as I could never leave a task half done. I knew if there was still time in the day, I would need to finish what I was doing, because otherwise, I felt super guilty – and I knew I’d have twice as much to catch up on the next day. This has undoubtedly helped with my grades, and with success in my early professional career. I’m able to focus, define priorities, and complete projects with a strong sense of innate urgency.
Furthermore, although skating is a solo sport, it most definitely taught me to work with a team. It would have been nearly impossible to be a successful skater without a team of coaches, medical professionals, trainers, and even fellow skaters at the rink as well. Each person brings something different to the ice and each athlete, and without a team of various coaches, certain aspects of the sport would be overlooked. Everyone had to work together to highlight the strengths of the athlete (let it be jumps, skating style, etc.) and improve upon the shortcomings. Even in unfortunate times of injury, trainers and therapists would have to work with the coaches to develop recovery plans. This reliance on a team on the ice taught me to appreciate my fellow classmates and coworkers off of the ice. Let it be team projects, study notes, or work tasks, someone will always know more about one topic or another, and is usually willing to lend a helping hand. No one could be successful all by themselves, and I know that growing up with my amazing teams certainly reinforced this in me.
All in all, being a competitive athlete and student for a significant portion of my life thus far has been the most rewarding experience ever. Combining the two parts has proved to be difficult at times, but I don’t think I could have been as successful at both had I not done them together simultaneously. Furthermore, having something outside of the athletic world made the transition away from sports smoother. Close to graduating from university, I wasn’t necessarily sure of what my future would hold, but I felt secure that no matter what direction my life would go, I would be okay. I now know that skating will always be part of my life, and I am endlessly grateful for everything the sport has taught me.
A few months ago, Nicole joined the Citigroup team in NYC as Analyst. She is now working in the Tech Investment Banking team within the M&A division.