Humans of Harker: Swimming to success

Nikela Hulton fearlessly takes new chances in the pool and in the classroom


Smrithi Sambamurthy

“Take every chance that you get, because in life you can take some chances and they could end up taking you much further than you expected. It’s a learning experience; if you can, and you don’t have much to lose, just do it,” Nikela Hulton (12) said.

Nikela Hulton (12) recalls the experience of competing at the Central Coast Section (CCS) swimming tournament in her freshman year. Energetic music blasts in the background as Nikela enters the pool, her teammates and friends cheering her on as she gracefully breaks the surface of the water with her dive. Holding this memory close to her as a reminder of her potential and how far she has come, Nikela remembers the moments from her childhood when her dad would encourage and comfort her before her swim meets.

“It’s always been my sport,” Nikela said. “I tried a lot of other ones but they’re not for me. So I just stuck with it … swimming shaped me because it teaches you self-discipline and how to push yourself.”

Nikela’s interest in swimming started at the age of 7 with fun, recreational lessons at a friend’s house, but when the teacher noticed her potential and urged her to join the swim team, the sport developed into a major part of Nikela’s life. Now, Nikela spends most of her time improving her skill and technique at the sport she has grown to love for its rewarding qualities.

“I don’t want to say winning [is my favorite part of swimming] because that’s obviously everyone’s favorite part, but it’s really satisfying if you’ve been working really hard for a long time, it actually pays off,” she said.

Nikela constantly drives herself to work harder, one of many factors for her success in swimming. Even at her low points, Nikela handles the situation and bounces back.

“One of my strengths [is] if I ever fail at something, I will eventually pick myself up and go through things with drive and determination,” Nikela said. “I would like to say I console people well, and I’m the person people go to for help. I like to help as best I can.”

Nikela applies the same determination she has for swimming to her academics. Upper school economics teacher and Nikela’s adviser Dean Lizardo appreciates her hard work both inside and outside the classroom.

“I know that there are some super early days for her where she’s waking up way too early, getting practices in and coming to school,” Lizardo said. “That to me is a testament to her dedication and her willingness to put into work. She’s a team player who’s always on board to join in on advisory activities and be part of the group.”

Nikela’s perseverance also fuels her optimistic outlook on life. Whenever she faces a challenge, her dad’s pieces of advice reminds her to stick to the values that shaped her.

“Take every chance that you get, because in life you can take some chances and they could end up taking you much further than you expected,” Nikela said. “It’s a learning experience; if you can, and you don’t have much to lose, just do it.”

Nikela loves to express herself through other ways, too, such as art and her startup. In business and entrepreneurship teacher Michael Acheatel’s incubator course, Trisha Variyar (11) and Nikela created a company that makes anti-theft package boxes with unique technological features. Recently, this project grew into one of the main passions of her life, allowing her to reflect on her accomplishments since the beginning of high school to now.

“I was really proud of myself because I didn’t think that I could do that at such a young age,” Nikela said. “We presented a mock pitch to people who worked for a bunch of different companies, and they really liked our presentations. I was really proud of myself for that because these big, scary people were complimenting our presentation.”

Building on her fundamental values, Nikela’s family has been another major influence in Nikela’s life. Nikela took a trip to Greece in 2018 as a way to understand her Greek heritage and see her family again. She holds the memory of traditional Greek dancing close to her heart and hopes to spend more time learning about her family’s heritage.

“My grandmother grew up in a really small village, and every time we went, there was a festival with around 50 people from the whole village,” she said. “It’s really inspiring to see everyone come together and express the culture, which we don’t really see as much here, because you’re not as connected with the country.”

As a first generation citizen, Nikela values her parents’ inspiring stories as immigrants. She acknowledges the cultural differences between both places, but remains extremely grateful for the experiences she has had so far.

“You’re not as connected with the rest of your family when you’re here,” Nikela said. “You know a little bit of the culture but you’re not really in it, even though you try your best, but I do have a lot more opportunities here. It’s a very different lifestyle.”

In her everyday life, Nikela feels most like herself when with the people she loves. She hopes to make her friends and family feel the same happiness they bring her. As someone who is seen as kind by her friends, Nikela also wants to surround herself with funny, genuine, warmhearted people.

Minali Kapadia (12), who has known Nikela since freshman year, admires Nikela’s kindness and humility.

“Nikela is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met in my life,” Minali said. “That’s not really common, especially at an age this young, and I think she’s conscious of all her strengths but she’s very humble.”

Close friend Brooklyn Cicero (12) admires Nikela for her selflessness and positive attitude towards life.

“​​No matter who she’s friends with, the one thing that she’s kept is her kindness no matter who she’s talking to, no matter what feelings she has for them,” Brooklyn said. “She’s very, very sweet.”

Nikela’s friends describe her as reliable, one of the qualities that she also prides herself on. As she proceeds on in life, she keeps her loved ones close and reminds herself that tomorrow is not promised and to live for your own fulfillment.

“I learn something new about myself and the world around me every day,” Nikela said. “It’s really valuable to enjoy living life and understanding the world. Otherwise you’re just going to go through the motions every day. So do what you love.”