Abbott Nixon, a 2021 graduate of Surry Central High School, will continue his athletic and academic careers at Mars Hill University.
Nixon was a four-year member of the Surry Central swim team and will continue making waves as a Mountain Lion for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Nixon said. “Throughout high school I never thought I’d be fast enough to swim in college, let alone earn a scholarship.”
Nixon had numerous offers to swim in college before deciding to commit to Mars Hill.
“I stumbled upon it by chance really,” Nixon said of Mars Hill. “I was looking for a schools in the area and I wanted to go somewhere in the mountains. I saw Mars Hill and went on a tour there and absolutely loved it. It was amazing up there and the coaches were all great to me.”
At age nine, Nixon began competing in the pool. He joined the Dobson Dolphins summer team and met coach Dara Kowalcik. Kowalcik coached Nixon throughout his swimming career with the Dolphins, including a few meets after his high school graduation.
The two also worked together at Surry Central, where Kowalcik is the head of the swimming program.
“He’s one of those kids that you enjoy getting to coach,” Kowalcik said. “He’ll be the first one there for practice and the last one there to help clean up. He will always offer advice to anyone. He’s just a kind person.”
“I really love her to death,” Nixon said of Kowalcik. “She was my coach all the way up through high school, except of course the two years I swam in middle school. I kept with the same crowd of people throughout middle and high school swimming, so having the same people in relays was nice and really just a lot of fun.”
Kowalcik said Nixon was the MVP of the boys swim team all four years at Surry Central and that he served as a captain his senior year.
“You hate to see him leave because he’s just a big part of the team,” she said. “Mars Hill is very blessed to be getting him. He will work hard and do really well for them.”
Nixon specialized in the breaststroke, and Kowalcik said she could tell he was a natural in the technique from an early age. He competed in the event and any other in which he was needed.
“A lot of the other guys looked up to him,” Kowalcik said. “He would never ask them to step out of their comfort zone unless he was willing to step out of his. He wasn’t a huge fan of the butterfly or freestyle, but he was always a team player.”
He finished on the podium for the 100 breaststroke his sophomore, junior and senior years at the conference championship. He won gold as a sophomore, bronze as a sophomore and silver as a senior. He was also a regional qualifier as both a sophomore and a junior.
Nixon helped Surry Central finish second as a team in the 2019-20 conference championship. In addition to his bronze in the 100 breaststroke, Nixon also earned bronze medals in the 200 individual medley and 200 medley relay. That year, he won a gold medal in the 200 freestyle relay with teammates Daniel Atkins, Jesse Vaughn and Tanner Boone.
When his senior year arrived, Nixon said he realized he needed to put even more into swimming if he wanted to swim in college.
“I really underestimated my ability, but my parents encouraged me and said I could be something more than I thought I was,” Nixon said.
With his senior year came new challenges. The 2020-21 high school swimming season was pushed back due to COVID-19 regulations, and even when the season did arrive, it was heavily restricted.
“Oh it was definitely not ideal,” Nixon said. “The practice schedule was crazy and the meets were weird. It was just a strange experience, but it worked out in the end. Swimming is still swimming regardless of how you look at.”
As a senior, the Golden Eagles boys finished third in the conference. Nixon was the only person on the boys team to place in the top three in each of the Eagles’ medal-winning races. He took bronze in the 100 butterfly and 200 medley relay, while winning silver in the 100 breaststroke as well as the 200 freestyle relay.
In addition to swimming, Nixon was a four-year member of the Golden Eagles’ tennis team.