Nebraska divers practice at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As a young girl, Natasha Chikina didn’t care for gymnastics — her parents’ sport of choice for her. Just her luck, she had a neighbor who was actually a diving coach at the time. She took a chance and knocked on her neighbor’s door to see if she could get into diving. 

That fateful decision led Chikina on a path to diving success — first, becoming an Olympian and later, becoming head diving coach at Nebraska. 

She grew up in what is now Kazakhstan and had a gymnastic background. Although she only participated in gymnastics for a short period of time, it gave her some abilities that helped her with diving later on.

“Gymnastics is a good sport to have a background in — from the coordination, strength, speed and flexibility — for any sport but definitely with diving,” she said. 

When Chikina started to dive, she was thrown into competitions right away — something she said didn’t always go the best. That sudden experience is how she learned to get better. 

“I started being able to catch up with my group pretty quickly, having to be thrown in like I was,” she said. 

Through international competition, Chikina heard a lot about the next level of diving — collegiate diving — which could potentially lead divers to represent their country. 

After the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, Kazakhstan became its own country, but in terms of Olympic diving, there were few experienced and qualified divers. Chikina was the best diver on her team and qualified for both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

“You meet a lot of amazing people there, from being in the Olympic village you meet a bunch of different people from cross country runners to divers, which I was in total awe about,” Chikina said.

In 1996, after attending a prep sports school in Kazakhstan for two years, she came to the United States to attend the University of Southern California to continue her diving and academic career. 

Going to school in the U.S. was more than just new training for diving — it was training for a new language and culture. 

“It was a hard first two months,” Chikina said, “But because of my team, and being with them the whole time, they kind of helped me learn the language things like slang and songs mostly … sayings like ‘What’s up’ were new to me.” 

Even after being in Nebraska for 14 years, Chikina still keeps in touch with friends from her alma mater at USC. 

After her successful diving career with lots of accomplishments and experiences to look back on, Chikina decided to give back to the sport that was such a huge part of her life by becoming a coach.

“I’ve known the sport from the beginning because I’ve been doing it since I was 11, so I know the details and the mental aspects … it’s kind of staying in the same family as diving,” Chikina said. 

For Chikina’s first experience with coaching, she stayed within familiarity and became an assistant coach for the diving club team at USC. What she remembered from that time was that when the team would travel, she would stay back and get to coach part of the team that stayed back alone, which she said gave her confidence.

As Chikina looked back on her coaching career and what she has learned from her experiences, she felt that reflection on past experience is something everyone needs in sports.

“I’m still learning now, I’m not one to say that I know everything because working with different ages, athletes and coaches you learn something new every time … but the most important is patience and trying to find connections, trying to get out of them what you want to see,” Chikina said.

As Chikina found more ways to improve her knowledge in diving, she and her husband found themselves in Oklahoma City running a youth regional training center. However, Chikina was ready to do something different. 

“Nebraska was open at that time, and when I heard that Pablo Morales was the head swim coach here, I had never met Pablo, but I knew about him from the Olympics, so I was like, ‘Wow I want to meet Pablo Morales,’” she said. “ … But after that, I talked to other coaches here and I’m so glad the opportunity came up because now Nebraska is our home.” 

Chikina is in her 14th season as Nebraska’s head diving coach and the support she received from the coaching staff was one of the reasons she knew it would last from the start.

Outside of her life as the Nebraska diving coach, she makes time for her daughter who is also a competitive diver.

“When we aren’t traveling for Nebraska diving, we are traveling for my oldest daughter who actually just won a national championship and who will represent the United State in the Pan 

American Games,” Chikina said.

Chikina will look to continue her strong coaching history in her 14th season, and this year she has shown her coaching skills with her divers who have dominated the meets and started this season 3-1. 

“It comforts me, that I can trust her [Chikina] 100% because of her impressive diving career and that when I need help I can always come to her for that right advice,” sophomore diver Sara Troyer said. 

"There is no place like Nebraska, there is something about it, when I first got the job I didn’t think that we would be here this long, but we found so much support here at from the school and my other coaches," Chikina said.