Q&A with Paralympian #179 Nikita Howarth
Paralympian #179 Nikita Howarth was one of 18 Paralympians who were acknowledged and celebrated in Hamilton in June 2019 as they were officially presented with their individually ‘numbered’ pin and certificate as part of The Celebration Project. Along with family, friends and guests they came together to celebrate over 50 years of Paralympic history in New Zealand acknowledging the incredible 209 Paralympians that have represented New Zealand.
We spoke to Nikita about her Paralympic journey including making her Paralympic debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games as New Zealand’s youngest ever Paralympian at the age of 13.
What is your favourite memory of being a Paralympian?
One of my favourite memories is returning home from my second Paralympic Games, Rio 2016. It was so great to see everyone at the airport and reunite with friends and family on home soil. It was fantastic to get back to my normal life.
Rio 2016 Paralympics felt more intense for me than London 2012. I was so young and new to Para sport in London and added to that in Rio I won 2 medals. After the Rio 2016 Paralympics the support from the New Zealand public was huge. In one way, for me this support felt a bit unusual as I wasn’t used to having cameras on me, but it was incredible to have such levels of support for Paralympians in New Zealand.
What is your most memorable moment at a Paralympic Games?
It was definitely winning the gold medal in the Women’s 200m Individual Medley SM7 at the Rio 2016 Paralympics and added to that beating everyone by such a big margin. As I swam the breaststroke leg of the race, I realised that I definitely had a shot at winning gold. When I touched the wall for the final time the relief was huge. I was so happy. All the years of hard work and effort had paid off.
Have you had a Paralympian that you have looked up to? Inspired you?
Paralympian #164 Cameron Leslie is someone I have always looked up to and I have taken inspiration from what he achieves in and out of the pool. One reason is that we have similar arms, however Cam does not have full legs either and I just think this must make training so difficult. Sometimes he teaches me things, and sometimes I teach him things, so I am lucky to have a great relationship with him. Cam has been a bit of a mentor to me over the years.
Tell us about the most favourite coach that you have had? Why was this person your favourite coach?
I have not really had a favourite coach and it is so hard to pick individuals out as I have had a lot of coaches throughout my career. But I have been lucky to have a couple of coaches that have been fantastic and as coaches really supported me to be the best I can be.
Narcis Gherca was the coach that got me to London as a 13-year-old Para swimmer. He never altered the programme for me, he was so consistent so as an athlete I always knew where I stood and what was expected from me. When I was so young it was much easier to keep up with everyone. Narcis recognised my potential well beyond the London 2012 Paralympics and pushed me hard as he knew I had the ability to compete at multiple Paralympic Games in the future.
Jon Shaw was another coach that was a great fit for me. He coached me leading into the Rio 2016 Paralympics. He was so stubborn, and he would always make me do kick sets time and time again, to improve my kicks. It worked and my kick did improve hugely but it was not always fun. Jon never budged on his training and what he set was what we did. This suited me as one thing I really value in a coach is consistency so I can just get on with it!
What are your aims over the coming years with your sporting career?
Right now, my focus is to quality and be selected for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I want to get out there and compete and do as well as I can. I am not sure how well I will do but I’m really enjoying getting back into the pool as I have had such a long time away from Para swimming.
What are your favourite things to do outside of Para swimming?
I love cooking both everyday meals and baking. I seem to enjoy cooking anything unhealthy more than anything!
I also love getting outside and getting stuck into gardening. Anything from flowers to succulents. I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching things grow.
Just for a bit of fun, I also love roller skating and have been doing this my whole life.
Further information about Paralympian #179 Nikita Howarth:
In 2012, at the age of 13, Nikita became New Zealand’s youngest ever Paralympian. With gold and bronze medals in Para swimming, Nikita was New Zealand’s third most successful Paralympian in Rio 2016. In 2017 she decided to try Para cycling and less than one year after starting the sport she competed at her first World Championships back in Rio. In December 2018 Nikita broke the Flying 200m world record. Nikita has since retired from Para cycling and made a return to Para swimming in 2020, with her sights firmly set on selection to the New Zealand Paralympic Team to compete in Tokyo 2020.