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Now-junior Dimitri Nicholson (right) passes the baton to teammate and now-sophomore Aaron Stillitano in the men's 4x200-meter race during last season's Penn Relays at Franklin Field on April 29.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with Dimitri Nicholson of Penn men's track and field to ask him about his exceptional indoor season, unconventional journey to Penn, and unique perspective on overcoming adversity. Here's what the junior had to say. 

1. Can you introduce yourself?

My name’s Dimitri — but my friends call me "Dimo". I’m a junior in Wharton studying business analytics and marketing. I run track and I compete in the 60, 100, 200, and 400-meter events. As of right now, the 100-meter is my favorite but if you ask me in a couple months it could be the 400-meter.

2. Where are you from?

Chesterton, Ind. — 30 minutes out from Chicago.

3. How did you get into sprinting in the first place?

I bounced around in high school and didn’t really stick to one sport. I was big on baseball for a while, but going into my junior year of high school, I knew I didn’t enjoy playing it. My track coach watched me run and I always knew I was fast. I started competing pretty late, and my senior year was the COVID-19 year, so I didn’t really get to compete. Honestly, [running track] came out of nowhere; I had no expectations at all. 

4. Do you have any rituals or routines before events?

Yeah, I’ve been trying some new things out this year. I've started to learn that track is a lot more mental than you would think. I do some self affirmations before I get on the line: things like, "I am willing and I am able," "I know I’m able because of all the practice I’ve done," "I’m here," "I’m ready to run." Lately, I’ve been really big on improving my mental game and locking in on that. Sometimes I like to listen to music too, but only music where I know all the words to a song.

5. A few weeks ago you set the second-fastest time in the 60-meter in program history. Can you tell me more about what that was like?

I’m trying to chase that record now. I didn't have that much experience running track in high school, so I don't know what my potential could be. My main thing in track is my start — the 60 is a short race, so a big part of it is your start, and mine is pretty good. I would say that the more I compete, the more things are starting to click. I’m starting to understand my movements. I’m really hoping I can get this record. 

6. What does a typical day look like for you?

I will not lie — it has been a pretty lazy semester for me. My personal motto is "Take the hard days seriously, and the easy days easy." Usually, I wake up, make sure I eat breakfast, and right after class, go straight to the training room for 30 minutes to one hour. Then I have practice for four hours. It seems like a lot, but it's really a mindset thing. Track has definitely taught me a lot of discipline and time management skills I would say. 

7. What has been your favorite Penn memory so far?

Watching the women's 4x400-meter relay race last year at the Outdoor [Ivy League Heptagonals]. It’s easily my favorite sporting experience. They really needed to win that race to win the championship, and I remember everyone just mosh-pitting the track when they won and thinking, "These are the moments that you practice for." I’d love to be able to replicate that as someone competing. Sure, track is an individual sport, but they’re still my teammates and best friends. It almost brings me more joy to see others' practice pay off. I don’t think it’s that cool if I’m the only one doing well — I like to see other people succeed. 

8. What advice would you give to other athletes who are thinking of competing at the collegiate level?

Make sure that you are willing to put your all into it while keeping it fun. Once it becomes a chore, it's more negative than positive. Make sure you really want to do it. Align your mind with your body and your goals. 

9. What is your biggest motivator?

If I'm being 100% transparent, I’m my biggest motivator. I suppose this could also be my downfall. I always set the bar extremely high for myself, and I don’t like the idea of limiting myself in any way. I always want to be better because I know that I have so much potential to tap into. I think it’s exciting coming into practice with the mindset that I can do better. Whatever I've done, whether it's sports or academics, I’ve always wanted to maximize my potential. 

10. What song is currently playing on repeat on your Spotify?

I’ve been doing a song of the day every day for almost two years. This week it's been "Hold On" by The Internet, "NEVEREVER" by Destroy Lonely, and "Demand my Respect" by Kodak Black. 

11. Which 3 words would you use to describe yourself as a person?

Fast, goofy, versatile.

12. How do you feel that you’ve grown as an athlete and a person since freshman year?

Going into freshman year, I was so used to excelling at everything. I never really struggled at things I put my mind to. Penn was a wake-up call for me. Freshman year track, I didn't know how to do any of the drills. I was getting ripped apart at practice. Learning how to pick my battles was hard, but I’ve gotten more mentally mature. There’s going to be times of adversity. You just have to keep swimming. It will get better. That's something I wish I knew freshman year: failing is just giving me an opportunity to better myself. 

13. What's the best advice you’ve ever received? 

I was told once, "Why should I believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?" It sounds so trivial, but I feel like people don’t understand that self confidence is a skill you have to have, especially in track, because I came here so new to it and everyone else was so well-decorated. I struggled with thinking, "Am I on the same level as everyone else?" But I realize now, I’m not giving anyone a reason to believe in me if I don’t believe in myself.

14. What are your plans for after graduation?

Honestly, I don’t really know. I guess it depends on how well I perform. A fifth year of competing could be a possibility for me, because I am eligible. Looking back, considering my experience in high school of joining track and three months later committing to Penn, thinking too much into the future can close the door on a lot of opportunities in the present. I know I've definitely always wanted to play sports professionally. I couldn’t imagine being as competitive as I am and not doing something to accommodate that. 

15. What do you hope to be remembered for here at Penn?

Two things: one, I’d like to be remembered for the culture I set. It’s pretty obvious that I'm laid-back. I like to have fun. I'm not that serious. I’d like people to think of the fun that I can bring and just be known for making everyone feel better about themselves. The second thing is that I’d like to be remembered for being a friend, someone you can look up to, and someone who can be thrown into any situation and thrive.