Following the culmination of her first semester at the University of Southern California, Destiny Nelson ’19 opted for a change. Nearly one calendar year and 3,000 miles later, Nelson, one of very few transfers in the history of the Yale women’s swimming and diving program, is more than happy with her decision to join the Bulldogs for her sophomore season.
Just four meets into the regular season, the Prosper, Texas, native has already captured three first-place finishes in Ivy League competition and set a new Bulldog record in the 200-yard individual medley. The sophomore’s torrid start has been a major catalyst to the Elis’ early success, which includes an undefeated Ivy League record and an unexpected top-five finish in the talent-rich Ohio State Invitational.
“We expected Destiny to contribute in the classroom and water from day one,” Yale head swimming coach James Henry said. “She has surpassed our expectations with her ability to lead by example. We have an amazing team that has discovered another level of training with Destiny’s intensity on a daily basis. She makes everyone around her better by working harder.”
Nelson was indirectly equipped with competitive swimming skills at a young age. While other 1-year-olds honed their walking ability, Nelson learned to swim from her mother, a survival skills teacher, out of practicality. When her knack for swimming became apparent, her mother promptly signed her up for a competitive swim team.
Nelson began to garner national attention in her middle school years. NCAA teams began to actively recruit her in seventh grade, and by the time she was a high school senior, Nelson had narrowed her list to five prospective universities: USC, Yale, Duke, Texas A&M and Virginia. Though Nelson took one of her five allotted official visits to Yale, she ultimately chose USC as her destination after graduation.
“I come from a very small town; there are two stoplights and one high school,” Nelson said. “When I came on my visit [to Yale] I loved it, but I was unsure if I was going to be able to keep up with the academics and that kind of scared me away. I saw USC as the best balance between athletics and academics.”
A point-scorer and difference-maker on the USC team as well as an avid beachgoer, Nelson fondly reflects on her time in Southern California. She was a part of a USC team that won its first Pac-12 title in the 100-year history of the conference, placing in three different B-finals at the Pac-12 championships and finishing 11th in the 400-meter IM. Nelson also fondly recalled her favorite study spot in Southern California — a beach chair.
As her first semester came to a close though, it became clear that she was ready for the increased academic rigor from which she previously shied away.
“When we hit finals week, I was starting to realize that I could keep up with higher academics,” Nelson said. “Not that it [USC] wasn’t challenging, but I wanted to see if I could really push myself in the classroom. I didn’t want to regret 10 years from now not trying [a Yale experience].”
Once Nelson was sure she wanted to attend Yale, there was still work needed to realize the change. After Nelson received permission from USC, she and her former club coach reached out to Yale to see if the Bulldogs were still interested in bringing her to New Haven. Nelson took a second visit to Yale in March of 2016, with the approval of the Bulldog coaching staff, to ensure that she was a good fit for Yale and vice versa.
Even after her visit, during which she visited classes and spent time with the Yale team, Nelson was still unsure If she would even be admitted to Yale due to the rigid standards for transfers.
“Yale only accepts about 25 transfers in the world each year,” Nelson said. “Out of those, on average only two are athletes. It was about a six-month, grueling process, and I didn’t know if I was going to get in because it was so competitive.”
Nelson was admitted as a transfer to the class of 2019, and since coming to campus has become enamored with the Yale campus and her Bulldog teammates, she said. Nelson expressed excitement over being a member of such a driven and hardworking Yale community and added jokingly that she was somewhat terrified of the impending winter weather.
As the team moves deeper into its season, Nelson is eager to explore both the heights her team can reach in the pool and the unfamiliarity of snow. She received clearance from the coaching staff to hit the slopes on a snowboard, on the condition that her first run comes after the conclusion of the NCAA tournament.
The sophomore’s teammates and coaches reciprocated Nelson’s kind words, citing her as one of the key cogs behind the Elis’ great start to the season.
“Destiny has been an incredible addition to the team in so many ways already this year,” teammate Isabella Hindley ’19 said. “Not only is she contributing so many points in competitions, but she has also been extremely motivational in practice. She has been instrumental in raising the standard of practice and I think this is one of the main reasons the team has already had a lot of success so far this season.”
When asked about goals in the pool for the Elis, Nelson was quick to point to the possibility of an elusive Ivy League championship. Though already having claimed two Ivy League Swimmer of the Week honors, she isn’t near as concerned with individual accolades as with her team accomplishments.
“Being a part of the team is what I will take away from being a collegiate swimmer,” Nelson said. “I personally don’t think I’ll look back in 10 years and say I made NCAA’s this year, or I got this place; I’ll look at the experiences I had with the girls beside me. That’s what I’m looking to take away over the remainder of the next two-plus years.”
Correction, Nov. 30: A previous version of this article misstated that Nelson was the first transfer to the swim program.