Among Tufts University’s talented incoming class, only one first-year has “2x Olympian” in her Instagram bio. That student is Gaurika Singh, an 18-year-old swimmer that proudly represented Nepal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and returned as the nation’s flag bearer this past summer in Tokyo.
Since Singh started competing at age 12, one might assume that the decorated athlete was born swimming. In reality, Singh’s swimming career wouldn’t have kicked off without the help of bribery and dessert. When she began swim lessons at age seven, she used to cry every time she dove into the pool. It wasn’t until her mother started coaxing her to lessons with the promise of ice cream that she started to embrace the water. Now, instead of being a source of stress, swimming is a tool Singh uses to maintain good mental health.
Considering Singh’s remarkable international swimming career, her mother’s dessert scheme certainly paid off. Singh medaled four times at the 2016 South Asian Games, and at age 13, she was the youngest Olympian to compete in Rio’s 2016 Games. She added four gold, two silver and three bronze medals to her collection after competing in the 2019 South Asian Games. Yet, perhaps her most impressive accomplishment to date was being named Nepal’s flag bearer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Singh said, “swimming [at the Olympics] wasn’t the hard part.” Sitting for interviews and proudly waving Nepal’s flag in front of a global audience was far more nerve-wracking for the 18-year-old. After overcoming her fear of tripping over her stunning, full-length, traditional dress, Singh recalled the immense sense of pride she felt during that surreal moment. Receiving this honor was particularly meaningful for Singh as a Nepali citizen who grew up in the Western hemisphere.
Throughout her adolescence, Singh noted that since she grew up in London, people do not often view her as a Nepali citizen despite the Nepali citizenship being the only one she holds. From eating Nepalese food with her family most days of the week to dedicating herself to extensive charity work and advocacy for her nation, it is evident that behind Singh’s British accent is a person who takes great pride in her Nepali identity. Thus, for Singh, carrying Nepal’s flag on the highest stage felt like the greatest triumph over any doubters of her national pride.
After finishing her 100m freestyle heat in Tokyo with a time of 1:00.11 — setting the new national record in the process — Singh enjoyed her brief stay at the village, particularly the dining hall.
“The food there was incredible,” she said. “There [were] pastries, ice cream, cakes … and we just couldn’t eat for two weeks [before our heats, so] when the race finished, all the pizza [was] demolished.”
When she wasn’t in the pool training or fueling up at the dining hall, Singh was scoping out Olympic tennis players. Though swimming is Singh’s choice of sport, tennis holds a special place in her heart — as demonstrated by the sheer excitement she exhibited when talking about some of her favorite players: Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Naomi Osaka. Four-time grand slam singles champion Osaka particularly inspires Singh not just due to her on-court dominance, but also because of her advocacy for mental health awareness.
“In sports we don’t really talk too much about mental health, so it’s just amazing that she’s done that,” Singh said.
Now, Singh is hoping to apply what she has learned from her extensive swimming career to her collegiate experience. What initially drew her to Tufts was the institution’s commitment to both academic and athletic excellence.
“I know [with] being a student-athlete, the word student comes first,” Singh said. “There’s a lot of other aspirations I do want to pursue, and Tufts seemed to marry both academics and swimming really well.”
Perhaps most importantly though, was the sense of camaraderie that junior individual medley and butterfly swimmer Bella Preneta and junior freestyle swimmer Claire Brennan conveyed to Singh during recruitment season.
“I spoke to other recruiters … [but] no one spoke about the [university] like these two girls did about here, and it seemed like a family,” Singh said.