By Nailah Ellis Timberlake | Tuesday, February 2, 2016
When Howard University was looking for new swimming and diving head coach, the school’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics had to look no further than the wall in the pool.
Nic Askew was hired in 2014 to guide his alma mater, after athletic director Skip Perkins ran into Nic and said, “I recognized your name on the wall, in fact your name is on the wall twice!”A school record-holder in the 100m and 200m breaststroke, Askew was honored to lead the Bison after coaching swimmers on an individual basis and starting a Masters Team at Howard.
“I think I’m pretty safe in saying that any athlete that has a chance to coach at the alma mater that gave them so much would be ecstatic,” said Askew. “As a student athlete, I listened well, I trained hard and was able to perform at a high level. That’s what I want to pass on to my swimmers.”
His team describes themselves as a family, and Askew makes a point be a mentor to all of his athletes.
“He puts a lot of effort into the program so he’s relatable and passionate,” said Matthew Golden, senior biology major from Los Angeles and captain of the men’s team.
“You can talk to him about anything. He really cares about us,” said Danielle Brown, sophomore sports management major from Houston.
A native of Kinston, N.C., Askew started swimming competitively at the age of seven. Both of his parents were swimmers, as were his two older brothers, Mark and Joe, so it was a ‘no-brainer’ that their baby brother would follow in their footsteps. His older brothers got jobs at the local pool as lifeguards, and he again followed suit.“With three rambunctious boys in the house, our parents used swimming to tire us out,” said Askew. He was a member of Kinston Killer Whales team and on the Kinston High School Swim Team until it was time to attend college. He once again followed his older brothers when he decided to attend Howard University, where he received scholarships for both swimming and tennis and lettered in both sports for all four years.
“It was a no-brainer for me because I wanted to go to an HBCU that had (an NCAA) Division I swim program, and there were only two at the time – Howard and FAMU,” said Askew. “Both of my brothers graduated from Howard, and I would visit them all of the time, so it was a perfect fit.”
He served as captain of the swim team for his last two years and was named Most Valuable Player four times, three in swimming and once in tennis and is the only athlete to be named MVP in the same year for two different sports. During his junior season, Askew broke the school records in the 100m and 200m breaststroke, was Northeastern Conference Champion and broke the conference record for 100m breaststroke and was the Southern State Swimming Conference Champion (from lane 8, outside smoke!).
During his senior season, he broke the Georgetown University’s pool record and then his own Howard record for the 100m and 200m breaststroke. His unbroken records still stand with his name on the record board above the pool where he now coaches.
Before taking the head coaching position of the college team, Askew began coaching swimmers on an individual basis and started a Masters Team at Howard.
“My goal has always been to help instill healthier lifestyles in individuals, and that’s why I decided to pursue a career in coaching,” said Askew.
Currently, Howard is the only HBCU in the country that has a Division I swimming and diving program.
“We’re a small program. I want us to stand out as a team,” said Coach Askew. His main goal is to grow his squad. “With us being an HBCU, we’re looking to build a team that is a reflection of the University and when you look at the demographics at the elite level, it’s a hurdle that we’re trying to get over to establish ourselves as one of the top programs in the country.”
Bolstering the current “rebuilding stage” was the school’s largest recruiting class ever last year.
The program relies heavily on alumni backing, and former members of the program have stepped up in a big way to help with fundraising and physical support.
The team was able to raise more money for the program in 2015 than in previous years combined. They raised $20,000 in three months, which has gone towards equipment and covered the cost for everyone on the team to attend their annual winter training trip. A recently-created ‘Sponsor a Swimmer’ program encourages supporters to donate $1,000 towards the training needs of the team.
The team also established student-led committees, such as the Community Service, Public Relations and a Fundraising Committee to help plan events and garner support. They recently held a Swim-A-Thon where they raised $1,400 as a team.
Once the intercollegiate swim season is over, the team is launching a Learn-to-Swim Program for Howard University faculty and staff to overcome the stereotypes that black people don’t swim and help people overcome their fear of water.
“My No. 1 priority is to build the program in both quantity and in quality,” said Askew. “This is a special program made up of athletes that look like us and to be head coach of something this special means a lot to me.”
Nic resides in Washington, D.C., with his college sweetheart, Christie, and their two-year old daughter Aleena, the unofficial team cheerleader and can be heard from the stands yelling, “Go, go, go!”
For more information on Howard University’s Swimming & Diving Team, please visit http://bit.ly/20EU261