Senior Nikki Canale was a natural to diving from the start. Before diving, she was a competitive gymnast, which she credits in assisting by her transition to the sport. She did gymnastics for nine years and won four North Carolina state all-around titles during her career. Her skills out of the water made the talents Canale needed for diving come naturally after switching sports.

“Being a college athlete has always been a goal of mine, ever since I was super young,” Canale said. “I was just a little bit burnt out as a gymnast, and was kinda looking for something new. … The transition from gymnastics to diving is pretty easy, and I really like flipping and twisting and all that, so (diving) just made the most sense.”

Canale’s diving career took off quickly, and by 2016 she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, where she placed 17th on the three-meter springboard event. 

“I knew that I wasn’t going to make the Olympics because I was just realistic, so I was just happy to be there and just try to do my best,” Canale said. “I wound up making the semifinal round, so that was super fun. And just to be there and experience that, and be able to watch some really amazing divers and also be a part of it was just a great experience overall.”

Nikki also competed in the 2017 USA Diving World Championships Trials and placed 14th on the three-meter event, another impressive feat. Nikki competed one meter and platform as well, and excelled at both, finishing in ninth at the U.S. National Championships in 2016. 

“She’s a three-event diver,” Michigan diving coach Mike Hilde said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on here, is having athletes that are not just focused on one event, but people that can do multiple events, so she’s very versatile.”

Canale has proved to be an extremely versatile athlete for the Wolverines, competing in all three events at the Big Ten Championships all four years on the team. Her best finish came in 2020 with a fourth place title on the three-meter, as well as a sixth place and 13th place on one-meter and platform, respectively. She also competed in the 2018 and 2021 NCAA Championships. 

Due to COVID-19, Canale’s 2020 season was cut short and she did not have the opportunity to qualify for or compete at the 2020 NCAA Championships. However, thanks to a family friend who owned a gym, her training continued in hopes of future success. 

Unfortunately, the shadow of COVID-19 also affected this season, with a shutdown in the middle of the season during January. Without the meets to keep her in a rhythm, Canale struggled a little bit to start on the return meet at the Big Ten Championships. But, through it all, she persevered.

“She showed that no matter what setback, COVID-19 or not, she’s going to keep her mental training going,” Hilde said. “She’s going to stay with her strength training. She’s going to keep her focus on what she needs to do and not let it put her down, and she was very competitive for us at Big Tens.”

Canale finished her career last weekend at the NCAA Championships, placing 39th in the one-meter event. Simply qualifying for the meet was a major goal she had for this season as she wanted to prove herself on the national level. 

Despite her incredible career at Michigan, Hilde believes Nikki’s contribution to the team stretches further than her performances in the meets. 

“She’s led the team in showing what it looks like to work hard and come into training each and every day,” Hilde said. “Each and every challenge she’s faced she has overcome, and so I think people look at her as a leader, because she’s able to handle anything. She also builds people up around her, that’s one thing I think is special about her. When other people are struggling she helps them out and teaches them, so she’s just a leader at heart.”

Still, for Canale, it’s not all business.

“We’re all super close, and it’s really fun going to practice every day,” Canale said. “We’re definitely serious when we need to be, but it doesn’t feel like a chore. Practice always feels really fun and lighthearted. We’re also really competitive with each other, in a friendly way.”