Nikita Howarth has always done things in a hurry. Learning to swim aged “three or four” she started the sport competitively aged seven before making her international debut as a 12-year-old.
In 2012, at the tender age of 13, the Cambridge-based swimmer became New Zealand’s youngest ever Paralympian and the following year she was crowned a world champion. It has been a meteoric rise.
Inspired to one day win a Paralympic Gold medal following a school visit from 2004 Olympic cycling champion Sarah Ulmer, Nikita has wasted no time in pursuing her dreams.
Describing competing in front of 17,000 spectators at the London 2012 Paralympic Games as “overwhelming” she nonetheless performed above expectations, placing sixth in the 200m Individual Medley SM7.
On her return to New Zealand, the Cambridge High School student added Backstroke and Freestyle events to her schedule to meet her desire to compete in more races and adopting a more “positive attitude to swimming” made huge gains.
At the 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships in Canada she struck Gold in the 200m Individual Medley and earned a Bronze in the 50m Butterfly
“It was a great feeling to know I was top of the world,” says Nikita, who rises at 5am for training each day and fits in 11 sessions per week.
The Te Awamutu Swim Club member continued to impress, winning five medals at last year’s Pan-Pacific Para-Swimming Championships before notching two Gold medals - in the S7 50m Butterfly and SM7 200m Individual Medley - at the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships in Glasgow.
Nikita headed to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games with very clear targets of what she wanted to achieve.“I want to win Gold in the 50m fly,” she says of her favoured event. “To become a Paralympic Gold medallist would be cool.”
Nikita went on to achieve her goal and better it by one medal, winning bronze in the Women's 50m Butterfly S7. With an incredible schedule of four events at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, she set 3 season bests and 2 personal best times. With gold and bronze medals, Nikita was New Zealand's third most successful Paralympian in Rio, amongst a stand out team of 31 Paralympians. The Team secured a stunning 21 medals across 12 individual medallists – 9 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze – beating its pre-Games target of 18 medals by 3 medals. The team finished 1st in the world per capita and 13th in the world overall (previous best: 16th).
Nikita currently holds one World record and four Oceania records.
“You’ve gotta chase your dreams because they can’t chase you.”
Photo credit - Getty Images