Senior Nick Yang joined the Minnesota diving program in 2017. Over the past two years, Yang has had to adjust to American collegiate sports, academics, language and culture.
“Before I [came] here, my English level was terrible. My teammates are teaching me English everyday, and I’ve seen little bits [of] improvement,” said Yang.
The transition from newcomer to Big Ten All-Star was difficult.
Yang said he has an understanding that his success as an individual plays into the success of the team as a whole. He said he strives to be better student and stronger competitor for the benefit of the team.
“He’s very focused on the team. He’s focused on the team’s success and how his individual success can contribute to the team,” said senior diver Alan LeBlang.
Diving coach Wenbo Chen acknowledged Yang’s previous difficulties with academics and the adjustment from life in China to life in America but is proud of the strides he has made.
When Yang was struggling with schoolwork, the coaching staff allotted him time off, and teammates rallied around him to help him overcome the obstacles.
“Last year, he was really struggling academics-wise and training-wise. As a student athlete, he needs to take academics first. I let him take days off for the academics,” said Chen. “I wanted him to catch up and get everything on track.”
This semester, Chen believes Yang is more comfortable in terms of academics, has a solid GPA and is giving his best because he recognizes it is his last year with the program.
This season, Yang has had numerous first-place finishes in events including a sweep of the Platform Diving event at the Iowa Invitational and a sixth-place finish amongst the top competitors in the Big 10 and ACC at the Big 10/ACC Challenge.
It is Yang’s willingness and eagerness to learn that allows for major growth. This desire to consistently improve makes him a strong competitor and is respected by his teammates and coaches alike.
“Nick’s a really good competitor. That’s his best quality I think as an athlete. When it comes to meets, he’s very emotionally controlled and that’s something I try to replicate,” said LeBlang.
Yang is grateful for his teammates. When he has faced trials or has dealt with homesickness, his teammates have been there to support him and have become a family to him.
“Every meet, [the other athletes’ parents] come to watch their competition but my parents cannot come because [it’s] too far, so sometimes I feel alone,” said Yang. To make him feel less lonely, other parents will watch his events and cheer him on.
Yang hopes to carry with him lessons instilled by the coaching staff when his time is finished with Minnesota.
“Wenbo and Coach Mike, they, when I do something bad, they say just move on. Like when you’re [at a low point in] your life, you need to give yourself some passion, attitude — they always give me that. I think that’s the most important thing in the future,” said Yang.
After completing his undergraduate degree and his time with the Gophers, Yang hopes to attend Stanford University where he just submitted his application for the documentary, film and video program.