Cory Nikkel vividly remembers his first time.
As a fifth-grader, he began helping others by raking leaves for the elderly. From then on, the Central College junior was hooked, as evidenced by this “Dutch tight end Nikkel feeds addiction to serve” story.
“My parents stressed that I am blessed to have a warm home, to have the energy and the youth to be able to play all day,” he said. “There’s people out there who can’t even leave their houses and rake their own leaves, so I was so excited to be able to do that. That was definitely the first point I remember being like, ‘Hey, I love helping people.’ ”
Nikkel’s service habit has taken him to Peru and Mexico. His next stop? Nikkel will head to Australia, where he’ll spend three months this spring with a mission organization providing assistance to Aborigines. The 21-year-old said he can’t imagine what the experience will be like, but he knows it’s going to change his life.“Here I am sitting in the dorm room and I have everything I need in just one little room,” said Nikkel, who will miss spring football practice and graduate a semester late to go on the trip. “I’m going to go out into the Outback and live with people who don’t even have running water, no electricity, their possessions are miniscule. And yet they’re living a happy life, they’re content with how they are.
“So I’m very excited just to learn from them, but also have a chance to help them. “
Nikkel plans to write a first-person account of his Outback experience for NCAA.org, checking in monthly when he has access to the Internet back in Townsville, Queensland.
About a year ago, the English and secondary education major began writing a motivational book tentatively titled “For the life of me; or what could be you” about dealing with the relationships, temptations and changes that many college students encounter. His trip to Australia will no doubt be a source of inspiration for the budding author.
In altruistic fashion, Nikkel has put his English as a Second Language and Arabic classes to good use by working with an Iraqi refugee support program in Des Moines. Several other Central student-athletes have been involved, including a couple of basketball players.
At Central , coaches and teammates have encouraged and been encouraged by Nikkel. One in particular is Zach Van Arkel, a graduated team captain whom Nikkel said also has a heart for service. (While studying abroad during the spring semester in 2008, Van Arkel worked at The Passage, a homeless shelter in London.)
Along with last year’s senior class, Van Arkel put together a Lift-a-Thon. The money was used to buy toys for the children’s hospital in Des Moines.
“Ten cents per pound adds up to be a bunch of money when you lift about a thousand pounds of weight,” Nikkel said.