TPH Director of Administration to make second appearance on show
(HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – September 3, 2020) – During the day, Nichelle Simon serves as the Director of Administration for Total Package Hockey (TPH). During her free time, Nichelle has been a coach for almost 20 years, played in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and appeared on American Ninja Warrior. This fall, she’ll make another appearance on American Ninja Warrior with an even greater story than when she first appeared three years ago.
It’s been a challenging few years for Simon. Following her first appearance on American Ninja Warrior in 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It put her life and the goals she wanted to accomplish hold. But, she battled cancer and finished her chemotherapy treatments. Simon then went on to tryout and play for the Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL.
“I did American Ninja Warrior in 2017, and I trained really hard for two years to get on it,” said Simon. “I didn’t get on TV, but made it out of 700,000 applicants and only about 700 were accepted. They only have time to show about 30% of the runners. Less than a year after I ran the course, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2018. I dealt with that for about six months. I was supposed to tryout for the NWHL that June, and obviously I wasn’t able tryout or train. In August, when I had finished the chemo treatments, I started training again. I was 35 at the time. I trained from August to June of the next year. I tried out and made the Metropolitan Riveters less than a year after finishing chemo. I played for them last year.”
Simon played in 21 games as part of the defense corps for the Riveters in the 2019-20 season where she tallied two assists. She played and then everything was put on pause due to the pandemic, but more opportunities were still to come for her.
“I played for the Riveters, then COVID hit and I came home to Huntsville,” said Simon. “I was sitting outside eating dinner in June, and I get a call out of nowhere from American Ninja Warrior asking me to be on their show this year. I had three weeks to train for the show instead of a typical year and a half. Luckily I was already in hockey shape, but that’s still different than hockey shape.”
Most athletes preparing to participate in American Ninja Warrior train for many months before running the course. Simon had three weeks, but she took it in stride and was excited for the opportunity.
“It was super hard,” said Simon regarding the quick training schedule. “You can’t gain a whole lot in three weeks. You can exhaust and hurt yourself if you’re not careful. I did a bit of upper body training, but mostly just tried to get my weight down. Most of my focus was on nutrition and getting my mindset right. Most of it was a mental preparation. Lots of positive self talk and thinking through obstacles. Nothing was open due to the pandemic for anyone to train. A lot of it was just mental training.”
Each experience on American Ninja Warrior has been different for Simon. The first one took a year of training and was a journey for her to reach that goal. This time around, she’s was ready to simply enjoy the opportunity given all the challenges she’s recently faced.
“Honestly, there is a deep meaning there,” said Simon when comparing her experiences. “The first year I did American Ninja Warrior was the most intense because I trained so hard. I had to lose about 35 pounds and gain muscle. I changed my body completely the first time I did it. I was not a body type that would typically do American Ninja Warrior. It was an incredibly difficult journey the first time, and I was extremely proud of that. This time, it was still very meaningful, but it almost made it easier just to say that I’m going to go and have a good time and do the best I can and just enjoy the opportunity because it came up so quickly.”
No matter what, Total Package Hockey is proud of Simon and everything she’s accomplished. She’s the epitome of overcoming a challenge one faces and still achieving a set goal. American Ninja Warrior season 12 premiers this Monday, Labor Day, at 7:00PM Central on NBC. It’s not publicly released as to when or if Simon will make an appearance on the show, so you’ll have to watch every Monday at 7:00PM Central to catch her story and watch her run on the course.
Learn more about American Ninja Warrior here.
Ice hockey isn’t a sport people associate with the South, but one Huntsville native is making strides to change that.
Nichelle Simon is taking her shot on the ice and heading to the National Women’s Hockey League but her journey to get to this point hasn’t been as smooth as ice.
“It’s absolutely a dream come true,” Nichelle Simon said.
She’s been playing ice hockey since she was 17 years old.
“I started ice hockey later in life, and I didn’t feel like, I don’t feel like I’ve played my best years of hockey yet,” Simon said. “And I’m a better hockey player now than I was in college and I’m just not done playing yet.”
At the beginning of September, Nichelle got the chance to turn her dream into reality with a week long tryout with the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters.
“Actually after the very first practice that I had, they gave me the heads up that I’d be getting offered a contract,” Simon said.
But a year and a half ago, Nichelle didn’t know if she’d ever get to play hockey again after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I had a bi-lateral mastectomy in march, a year a half ago in march,” Simon said. “And I was going to try for the league that year, but obviously that put a quick stop to that.”
The next four months would prove to be the toughest challenge as she went through chemotherapy.
“I mean I struggled to make it up a flight of stairs, I had to stop three times, and that was hard for my boyfriend to watch,” Simon said. “I mean I was extremely strong before that. I lift heavy weights and stuff and I’m working out hard and here I am I can barely walk up a set of stairs you know.”
“When she had it, she went through the ‘am I going to die?’ and I said ‘no, you’re not going to die. We’re going to get through this.’ and we did,” Simon’s boyfriend, Eric Smith said.
Nichelle and her boyfriend, Eric, set big goals to help push through chemo.
“I kept saying to her, you’re going to get through this and play hockey,” Smith said.
Simon agreed to what her boyfriend said about playing hockey and added, “all I wanted was to get through so I could start working out again, and get strong and healthy as quickly as possible.”
Nichelle might not have been physically ready to be back on the ice after her treatments, but she was mentally ready to start training again.
“It was slow the first few months,” Simon said. “It was a struggle working out. It was hard to lift a five pound weight, let alone anything heavier than that. It was hard to run. It was hard to do everything.”
Now, there’s no stopping her from shredding on the ice.
“I think girls need to see them playing, no matter what; whether you get paid a lot or a little,” Simon said. “Getting paid anything to do something you love is an incredible opportunity and I want to be there to be a role model for girls and women who are coming up in the sport and it’s a very big honor to be able to do that at the highest level.”
Nichelle told WAAY 31 that no one really knows how strong they are until they are pushed to do something they didn’t think they could do. She’s proven anything’s possible if you keep believing and working hard towards your goals.
Now, Nichelle has also been a coach at the Huntsville Iceplex for 12 years and has taught a lot of kids how to play hockey and skate. On Saturday, September 14, Nichelle signed her contract for the Riveters at the rink in front of family, friends, and current and former students. Everyone we talked to said Nichelle is going to be greatly missed, but they’re all looking forward to going up to New Jersey to watch play.
“She is not just like ‘oh we’re going to play around.’ she is a hard worker, and she says you have to do that,” Simon’s player Ian Sharpe said. “She does not let you piddle around and she’s very tough and strong she really works hard.”
“You get to see her from like when she coaches you and then when she’s actually a professional,” Matthew Brown said, another one of Simon’s players.
Nichelle was only back in Huntsville for that one day and actually is headed up to New Jersey Sunday to start practicing full time. The Riveters first game of the season is coming up quickly at the beginning of October.
September 12, 2019 – Defender Nichelle Simon, who played college hockey at Hamline and Neumann universities and appeared in season 9 of NBC’s hit show “American Ninja Warrior,” has signed with the Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL.
Simon is also a breast cancer survivor who completed her treatments in June, 2018. She has preparing for a comeback to hockey ever since, and achieved her dream after a successful tryout before the Riveters’ hockey operations staff.
The veteran defender was born in Ft. Lauderdale and attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s School before playing college hockey at Hamline University and Neumann University. She scored 19 goals in 87 career games, including 10 goals in her freshman season at Hamline University, and was named to ECAC West’s All-Academic Team in her senior season.
Simon, 36, is a dedicated athlete. She competed during the ninth season of “American Ninja Warrior” at the Daytona Beach qualifiers and continues to train for ninja events. Simon participated at the 2018 USA Pond Hockey National Championship in Wisconsin and led her team, the Southern Thunder, in goals at the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Nationals in Anaheim.
“I’m extremely proud and honored to be selected to represent the Riveters and the NWHL on and off the ice,” said Simon. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing with and against great hockey players and the opportunity to be a role model for girls and women coming up in the sport. My message is that it’s never too late to follow your dreams!”
Simon has been committed to promoting hockey in the South and has been an instructor for over a decade. She is an “Operations Ninja” for Total Package Hockey, a service dedicated to positively impacting the lives of student-athletes through the best sport in the world.
Contact: Chris Botta, NWHL firstname.lastname@example.org
The greatest challenge in writing about Metropolitan Riveters defender Nichelle Simon is knowing where to start. Do you begin with the fact she didn’t get her on-ice start until she was a 17-year-old? Do you instead go with the fact that she rose so quickly, was so head-and-shoulders better than those she played with and against, that she transferred from her public school in Atlanta to the veritable hockey factory that is Shattuck St. Mary’s mere months later? Or how about the fact that she started her own women’s team, she hasn’t played at a major competitive level since her final college campaign in 2004-05, she competed on American Ninja Warrior or she’s a cancer survivor who tried to put off chemotherapy treatments last summer in order to tryout for the NWHL?
Maybe we should start with that last one, because it’s why Simon, 36, will be the league’s oldest newcomer this season instead of a spry 35-year-old rookie.
When the NWHL burst onto the scene in 2015, Simon had heard about the fledgling league and was urged by some of those around her to give it a shot, test her mettle, see if she could transition from standout recreational player to professional athlete in the burgeoning women’s circuit. In the years since her time at NCAA Div. III Neumann University ended, she had continued to grow her game. She was and had been practicing with a boys AAA team in Huntsville, Ala., since 2007, she continued skating in recreational men’s leagues and she played on weekends. By her estimation, she was a better player then – and she’s a better player now – than she had never been. The issue, however, was that Simon was on a different journey at the time.
In August 2015, she had committed herself and her life to training for American Ninja Warrior. Hockey was on the back burner, and that’s where it remained for the next two years while Simon lived in the gym, earned her spot on the ninth season of the program and competed with and against some of the best athletes in the world. But at the culmination of her pursuit of one dream, and with time to take stock of what she wanted to tackle next, Simon’s focus shifted.
During the 2017-18 NWHL campaign, she began flirting with the idea of playing in NWHL. And it was in the late stages of that season that she committed. In February 2018, Simon made plans to head to Nashville where she would train with Total Package Hockey – she’s the director of administrations for TPH – in preparation for an NWHL tryout.
“I was ready to go do that, had a hotel booked, was ready to move and everything,” Simon said. “I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer on February 22nd of that year, two weeks before I was ready to go.”
And here’s the part where you come to understand something about Simon’s drive and determination: when faced with the cancer diagnosis, among her first questions was whether or not she could put off the surgery, stall the chemotherapy and continue the pursuit of her newfound NWHL dream. As Simon put it, she’s not one who does well when her plans are altered by outside forces. She didn’t want to let anything get in her way. But this? This she had to accept. Her doctors told her she could wait weeks, but not the months her training would require. She went under the knife. She went through four hard months of chemotherapy.
“And all that time, all I was thinking was, ‘Get through this so I can try out for the NWHL next year, because I’m only getting older every year. I’m healthy and I’m strong,’” she said. “And coming off of American Ninja Warrior, I was the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been and I didn’t want to lose that.”
By the time she finished her treatment in July, however, it had taken its toll. And while it didn’t stop Simon from skating in Chicago’s “Puck Cancer” tournament four weeks after her final round of chemotherapy, which she called one of the most challenging weekends of hockey of her entire life, she felt the impact of what her body had gone through. When she got back into the gym, she was a shadow of what she had been only several months earlier. “I was weaker and tired so quickly, so I couldn’t go as long, couldn’t go as heavy, couldn’t go as hard,” Simon said. “I think it was January, probably, before I really started to feel good in the gym again and could really start pushing a little more.”
But over the next several months, with longtime boyfriend, Eric Smith, by her side, she worked tirelessly. She pushed her body to its limit. The gains were small but incremental. In June, she stepped on the ice for an open tryout in front of Metropolitan Riveters staff. The coaches were impressed, enough to give Simon another look. And that’s when Simon ramped up her workouts. For the next eight weeks, she trained “100 percent, full, all out, every day, like I had been for Ninja Warrior.” Her devotion was rewarded the next time she stepped in front of the coaches. On Sept. 13, her signing by the Riveters was made official when it was announced by the NWHL, and on Sept. 28, Simon stepped foot on the ice for the first time in her professional career.
“I was very overwhelmed,” she said. “I was trying to focus on the game but my mind kept coming back to, just, ‘My God, what am I doing here and how did I get here? This is amazing.’ I’m just in awe of everything and of myself and everything around me. I played that game with a smile on my face almost the entire time. My legs were burning, my lungs were burning and my everything hurt.”
Through it all, though, Simon said she was smiling and happy, thankful for what she’s been able to accomplish. And when she steps foot on the ice for Game No. 1, her big-league debut, she will do so as one of the league’s elder stateswomen despite the fact she is, by all measures, an NWHL rookie. She jokes about it, quips about feeling old – “I told (my teammates) the other day that I’ve been working at my job for 12 years…And one of them looked at me and said, ’12 years? How old are you?’” Simon laughed – but everything that has brought her here has given her a unique perspective on what it means to be accomplishing this dream.
“I’m older than most of them by 10 years or more, and I’ve lived a lot of things,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot of things, obviously, competed at high levels and different things. I sit there and I feel like I have a different outlook on life and on what I’m doing there. I feel very, very honored and lucky to be there.”