I had the pleasure of interviewing Bodybuilding.com TEAM Athlete Nikki Walter. Nikki Walter’s life hasn’t been short on hardships: Her father died when she was a teenager and she lost her 35-year- old husband to leukemia. But every challenge she faced only made her want to be stronger. She decided to turn her life around using her love of fitness and healthy living and is a six-time NPC first-place bikini athlete. She is also a Food Prep Coach, Personal Trainer, is certified Less Mills Body Pump Instructor and is a Group Fitness Instructor. Nikki and her daughter travel the country help change lives through speaking engagements, seminars, boot camps, and their company, Clean Eating Parties, LLC. Through her work as a Bodybuilding.com TEAM Athlete, Nikki has encouraged and inspired many to follow their dreams.
What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in a very small town (five houses, population 20) Holabird, South Dakota, and traveled to school in a small-town population 800. My parents were not athletes, and struggled with weight and high blood pressure, but to me it was normal to have parents with issues, it’s all I knew.
There were not a lot of options for sports, other than shooting sports, which our team was state and national champions, I found my love for running in junior high. I also participated as a cheerleader and attending ballet classes at school 45 miles from home. Needless to say I began to find much joy in running early mornings on the gravel roads, and while the rest of the girls in my class of 23 were worried about boys, and slamming slim fast for lunch, I loved my food, and was just hoping to get into the Airforce so I could go through basic training because the intensity sounded awesome and I wanted to be an x-ray technician.
But end of junior year in March of 1997 my father lost his life in a car accident, and my plans for the military ended as I decided to pursue a degree at a state college to stay close to my two younger sisters and my mom.
I moved on to Northern State University to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fitness Management. In my college years I was working but also teaching group fitness classes, and co-founded The Northern Highlights Dance team, which took time to grow, but to this day exist as a university club, giving all students including international students an opportunity to dance on the team. I moved to Minneapolis Minnesota to work for Medtronic Wellness Centers, and after was offered a job, that I declined to move back to South Dakota to be married.
I was disappointed and felt I had let my dream of the health industry go, as there were no positions in my community. I began working at the Chamber of Commerce where I had a successful 11-year career obtaining a four-year certificate IOM from the US Chamber of Commerce, named top 40 under 40 for Prairie Business Magazine (four states), and three-time co-writer for the America Promise Alliance winning our community Top 100 Communities for Young People (focusing on many areas including health) for our youth.
I became a mom to our daughter Addison, and life was going amazing. Until March 2011, (March is not my favorite month) my husband of nine years was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) He needed a bone marrow transplant to live, which he received in September 2011, but his battle ended in November 2011 after fighting fungal pneumonia at 35 years old.
I was once again left to handle a major loss at the age of 32 with a 5-year-old daughter. I had written grants, and discussed programs and statistics for single parents, but here I was widowed, and scared.
Little did I know until he got sick, his parents each battled a form of cancer, and both grandparents on both sides of his family also had cancer. I had no idea, but I also knew at that point Addison has horrible genetics and the best thing I could do was to clean up our diets and research foods.
I had run six marathons at that point in my life with the goal to finish ten. I had tapered off from running, and didn’t realize I had lost so much hair and was down to 97 lbs. But our promise to Addison’s father was to give back and bring awareness to help others for a good cause and we wanted to help others.
In 2013 I decided I wanted to try a new goal. I had a bucket list, and after experiencing another loss, I am continuously on a mission to complete my evolving list of adventures. I had always wanted to compete in a bodybuilding competition. I approached my daughter and said “Addie what do you think about me trying to be in a body building competition? “she said “Mom, I think it would be cool, do I get to pick out your sparkly suit, and ear rings? And you HAVE to win me a trophy.” Pressure was on, but I named her my “little coach” told her what I could and couldn’t eat and involved her every step of the way.
I worked out over my lunch breaks and I finished my basement and put in a small home gym next to her toy area, so I could workout from home some days. I couldn’t leave her to workout early mornings, so it was nice to have home equipment.
It was a lot to handle at first and the lack of support and concern for those who didn’t understand my journey was overwhelming. I soon competed and placed in my first competition, which lead to other opportunities. Business community and my employer were not supportive of a “woman in business” being see in a swimsuit, regardless of the hard work and discipline that went into it. I went on to compete at the Olympia Flex bikini and five other NPC shows in 2013.
I changed careers and applied for the 2014 Bodybuilding.com spokesmodel competition. I was fortunate and blessed to be named to the team. In the meantime, I had realized my diet had changed and I wanted to keep my daughters diet clean as well.
She approached me one day about wanting to help others, and wanted to teach them how to eat healthy, and we created our company Clean Eating Parties, and began traveling to homes to help others.
Can you share the funniest of most interesting story that happened to you during your career?)
During my first year of bodybuilding, Addison learned my diet and what I can a can not have. One morning during peak week I opened the cupboard to find post it notes on the gum saying DO NOT TOUCH.
I also remember walking next door to my neighbor’s house after work one day and seeing my 4ft bodybuilding bronzed bikini girl trophies in the laundry room.
When I asked why they had the trophies, Addison explained “mom, they are mine you won them for me” She was 6 years old, I had to explain they were not like barbies to tote around and play with. They broke them but glued them back together. It was too cute.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would say the best part about all of this is that I share it with my lilmiss. I want to raise a confident, kind woman who becomes who she is meant to be and inspire others with her gifts. I want her to experience, and see hard work, discipline, sacrifice is all part of life, and that success can be very lonely at times, but to stay strong and live in purpose.
When starting our business to help others live healthier lives, it spiraled into something bigger. I have never thought my story was unique or special. Infect, it took me two years to share it and when I finally did, I felt peace, but things also just took off. Not only do I get to coach and help others life a healthy lifestyle, but I get to help others who are experiencing loss, and my daughter does the same.
I realized that after loss at a different stage of life I was once again forced to change the way I think and forced to become independent. I went from planning life, to living day to day, to starting over. I realized that my grocery list changed, and I found myself starring over at my sweet little girl, vowing to the powers above I would do what it takes to protect her, but also help parents think about the choices we tend to let slide.
I realized there is so much work that needs to be put into educating and helping parents, in a world of convenience, broken homes, and lack of discipline for our children. I learned by teaching my child how to ask for snacks, reading and studying nutrition and how it would affect her bad genetics. I fear because every single person from her father, his parents and both of their parents she is going to battle the awful disease, and I want to protect her.
But also want parents to really think about their lifestyle and give more to their own health. All of this stemmed into Clean Eating Parties, LLC. Addie is excited to help kids read labels, measure portion control, discuss image and self-esteem, and give ideas to parents from a child’s perspective. She told me she feels kids listen to other kids, not their parents, and she is on to something! She has done well mentoring kids to help picky eaters.
Parents are just clueless, and don’t understand maybe their norm isn’t the norm We can teach them the difference between and “active” child vs what they think is active and work with the family on creating a life long habit to pick up on.
The past couple of years, more and more people in my small home town in rural America are being diagnosed with cancer and various health conditions. Life in rural America is just a different pace. Priority is faith, family and farming. Small towns thrive on agriculture, many of them eating their own crops, and if they are not growing and canning their seasonal foods the local grocery store is higher in cost, and full of canned foods and processed everything. Meat and potatoes are a standard, and second helpings are common.
Working out is limited, there are no gyms and its just not a priority because early to bed, and early to rise between chores, farming, running kids to events are just how life is.
This population includes my mother who has Congestive Heart Failure and is connected to oxygen 24/7, diabetic and losing her eye sight. After her diagnosis, Addison was afraid to see her at the dinner table with an oxygen tank. I was in the kitchen making coffee and I over heard her speaking to her grandmother. She said “ grandma, you have to watch your sodium, and your sugar” She walked over to her drawer in the kitchen, grabbed a Fit Book Journal and began to show her grandmother how to track her activity and food. With a spark of Enthusiasm, she mentioned “ And grandma, if you track this you get to put a sticker on the page, isn’t that cool?” as she flipped to the back of the book to show her the stickers.
In 2018 with the parties we host, and public speaking we travel to do, we will be donating a percentage of those events to Be The Match in honor of her father who underwent a bone marrow transplant. We are also ready to launch our health initiative called Rural Ready. All my sponsors have confirmed supporting the events and we are so excited to implement them! Percentage of proceeds for the community parties, or public speaking will be donated to applicants for the program.
If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?
Just be you. Be kind. Listen to others and help them become the best version of their self. #bestself
So, what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?
We are working on a book this year, but hope to grow our speaking business, and launching our new initiative Rural Ready. Applicants can nominate a person or family in their community who needs a fundraiser for medical care. We will travel to that community to host a workshop for families and individuals. Applicants can apply by writing to me on Nikkiwalter.com
We are also working to grow my LilMiss’s brand and Kids Kitchen with Addie YouTube channel. She is a typical tween and would like to start filming and editing her videos. We are hoping we can save some money to purchase a better camera, and computer equipment, right now all we have is my iPhone and we need equipment.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Believe you can, listen to your gut feeling.
For so long I was co-dependent on my husband, and mentors. I believed they made better decisions, and I would do everything in my power to act as they wished in all I did from my personal life to my career.
I always felt like there was something more I needed to do, and I didn’t know what it was. I was so sad to have given up my career opportunity for Medtronic, and with limited options in a small town, I settled. Don’t get me wrong I have had a great past, but when I was forced to begin making decisions on my own as well as believe that what I felt and though mattered, I began to voice my opinion and implement my ideas with confidence.
I realized that my crazy ideas, and big dream thoughts were ok, because I would do what it took to make them happen. With the kindness of others, I was able to build a new support system, and simplify my personal life with a small group of friends, and my family.
It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t, but its rewarding to see others pursuing their goals and dreams especially when they let me know that Addie and I have inspired them to become or accomplish more than they believed they could.
2. Be true to yourself, and kind to and happy for others.
Remember where you started. I mention this because I have experienced a disappointment or two when dealing with someone I really wanted to meet or congratulate on their successes.
You know the saying, people remember how you made them feel. I had the chance to meet someone I really looked up to as a role model, and another whom I met in my early years of group fitness. Both I learned were different in person, then online.
It was just disappointing and weird. It is so easy to project or show the good parts of all we do on social media. I learned in both situations that jealously, and selfishness are not qualities I want in my life. I promised myself to always cherish who I am and where I started and not use others or waste their time with selfish plans.
3. While you “Network” Pay it forward in many ways.
Much of my success comes from the support of other confident women who were kind enough to connect or help me network. I strive to do the same and encourage others to do the same. A little act of kindness really does go a long way.
I never understood, and still don’t why people “hoard” connections like they may get lost. I do understand competition, but that is where we naturally need to remind ourselves of why we started whatever journey we are on. IF you could help one person get a job, pursue their dream, give them a complement that feeds their spirit to uplift them to succeed, why wouldn’t you? Encouraging others to do what they are so passionate about is powerful, and the best feeling of purpose we can find. Make all the friends you can and help others regardless!
Social media can make it difficult, especially when promoting a brand, it can get overwhelming and some may not understand the scope of your efforts. For me personally I am known internationally for my fitness efforts, and my online post’s reach a larger spectrum than the local followers in my home town. So, when I am published in this field, it is important for me to share that, because if I don’t, how would anyone know? I often hear people will grumble about local advertisers or anyone posting on social their brand or products. Unfollow them or learn to appreciate their efforts for promoting their business or brand. It may appear to some as bragging or being self-centered but social media is just that. If used in a positive way to help others, its ok to show them what you are up to! Be proud to show things, but don’t forget to keep some of life’s moments to yourself. One of my co-workers signs her emails with “Your success is my success” I love this, don’t you?
Speaking of amazing people, just in case you are wondering, I have a PHENOMINAL SPORTS PUBLICIST named MARLON LEWINTER of NRGized MEDIA… he is an amazing person and is always ready to help others. Thank you, Marlon, and to your beautiful wife Ashley for the time and energy you give to all of us athletes and TEAM at Bodybuilding.com!
4. LISTEN- Silence is golden
The power of listening and truly hearing what people are passionate about is almost like a superpower. Everyone wants to be heard, and I strive daily to listen to others. Its in my nature to talk a lot, and express my opinion, because I am very impatient, but this is a skill that I constantly work toward, and value when others listen to me. Don’t just bite your lip until its your turn to give advice, just relax and listen.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. :-)
There are so many amazing people, how can I choose just one?! Arianna Huffington, she is the ultimate woman leader who just goes for it. She has a lot going on, and she does it well. I also love Kelly Ripa, I would love to host a health and wellness show with her, I think we could totally rock it. As any parent would do I think of someone my child would want to meet or is inspired by her loves Ellen, of course because she is amazing and watch her together. She is just the best Human.