This past June, Warner University hired Nicky Nieves as the new WU Women’s Volleyball Student Assistant Coach, but she is much more than that. Nicky’s story started in 1989, when she was born in New York to Victor and Vilma Nieves. She learned how to play volleyball at the age of 12 and quickly became a stand-out player in high school and college, due to her unique ability to bump, set, spike and serve. Her parents always knew she had something special and pushed her to do things outside of her comfort zone. You see, Nicky was born with one hand.
Nicky was not one to let her disability hold her back or affect her in any way. She was excelling at traditional standing volleyball while at Queen’s College in New York in 2011, when she was approached by an “USA Volleyball” coach and invited to play for the Paralympic Sitting Volleyball team. She didn’t jump at the chance. She remembered her dad always teaching her that she was just like the any other athlete and she could do anything. She didn’t want this to seem like she was being limited.
Boy, was she surprised. “It was really difficult at first, I didn’t like the first two camps,” Nicky says. “Sitting on the floor to play volleyball, when you only know how to play standing up created some challenges. Seventy percent of the players had leg disabilities, and here I was, just missing a hand. But then I started to fall in love with the sport. It required so much physical strength, coordination and planning.”
Nicky was officially a team member of the TEAM USA Women’s Sitting Volleyball and headed to 3-day long practices in Oklahoma City once a month. Practice paid off when her team competed in the Parapan American Zonal Championship in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2011 and won gold.
Her traveling didn’t not stop there. Nicky and her team have played and won in Slovenia, Toronto (where they recently won a gold medal in the ParaPan American Games), London (Nicky could not make this trip) and against China on their home turf in Oklahoma.
After moving to Kissimmee, Fla, Nicky found her way to Warner University in Lake Wales, where she is now studying Psychology. “I love Warner. The professors are so caring here. Dr. Darr has been so helpful with my travel schedule,” says Nicky. “My professors get my classwork together for me ahead of time. Warner allowing me to leave and play with my Paralympic team has been the best of both worlds.”
Nicky also had the honor of being the United States Army Sitting Volleyball Coach at the Wounded Warrior Trials earlier this year, where she coached eight different countries and helped 179 athletes. “I helped wounded soldiers learn how to play this adaptive sport and realize that they can still be active.” She has also given her time selflessly to Limbs for Life and NubAbility Athletics, where she works with kids with limb loss.
At 5′ 10″, not only is Nicky now the assistant coach of the women’s volleyball team at Warner, but she was also asked to be the USA Volleyball Florida Region representative. She’s making herself known in the volleyball world with a sly smile and a giving heart.
Linda Gomez, Warner Men’s assistant volleyball coach, can’t say enough about Nicky. “Nicky is so talented and wise, with energy through the roof. I think she will be an Olympic coach one day,” says Gomez, who has a mentor relationship with Nieves. “She has made me a better person and gave me purpose.”
Next up for Nicky will be competing with her team in the Paralympics Games 2016 next September in Rio. We know this won’t be the final match for Nicky, whether it’s playing or coaching.