Through a lifelong pursuit of gymnastics, Nicole Riccardi has learned the principles of discipline, determination, teamwork and trust. The same confidence and courage that sends her flying through the air on the uneven bars or vault as a member of Ohio State’s Women’s Gymnastics team are also helping shape her journey as a business student at Fisher.
Her athletic career began at age four when she was repeatedly doing flips on the soccer field and her mom decided to quickly refocus Riccardi’s energy on gymnastics. For years, Riccardi enjoyed club competitions. By eighth grade she was researching universities with gymnastics programs.
“Most gymnasts do not become professionals and go on to the Olympics, so I knew that I wasn’t going to be a gymnast all my life,” she said. “That’s when academics and a resume became important.”
Riccardi, a native of Long Island, freely admits that The Ohio State University was not on her radar, but after encouragement by her coach, she investigated the gymnastics program and the university.
“I fell in love with the atmosphere at Ohio State,” said Riccardi, a third-year student specializing in finance. “I liked that the university was close to downtown and that the academics are amazing.”
By ninth grade she decided to become a Buckeye and used the next four years to explore the academic programs offered at Ohio State. A self-described “numbers type of girl who was already investing in stocks,” Riccardi listened when an advisor encouraged her to look into business.
She took his advice, was accepted to Fisher and immediately began exploring career development opportunities available at the college and beyond. One such opportunity eventually paved the way forRiccardi to connect her identity as a student-athlete and Business Buckeye.
Creating a brand
Offered through the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute within the Ohio State Department of Athletics, the Bucks Go Pro (BGP) program provides student-athletes with hands-on professional experience, career development and internship opportunities — experiences Riccardi was looking for.
“Bucks Go Pro only takes 35 athletes in each cohort, so being accepted into the program was a great accomplishment,” said Riccardi. “Up until college, I was only involved in gymnastics and never held any type of job. I needed professional experience and BGP provided me that opportunity.”
BGP helps student athletes create resumes, teaches them how to network outside of athletics and prepares them for professional endeavors after college. It includes an eight-week internship and company visits. The entire experience is a professional growth “boot camp” to set them up for career success.
“In the BGP class, we learned about financing, created a resume and LinkedIn profile and took part in mock job interviews,” she said. “This definitely helped me feel more prepared for a professional career.”
Her BGP experience happened to coincide with a pivotal time in collegiate athletics with the dawn of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL). Introduced in 2021, NIL allows student athletes to earn compensation through brand endorsements, marketing and promotional endeavors.
Integral to Riccardi’s BGP experience was learning how to monetize her personal brand as an athlete through NIL. She discovered how to tell her story, engage business skills necessary in the workforce, and be financially literate – how to sign contracts, pay taxes, make financial decisions and how the business world really works.
“For me, branding means being authentic and reaching out to the companies you love and enjoy so that you truly say why you love using a product,” Riccardi said.
Outside the classroom, Riccardi put the principles she was learning to practical use as a BGP intern at Fisher’s Center for Innovation Strategies (CIS) where she offered an athlete’s perspective on NIL projects from companies and programs looking to work with Ohio State.
“I reviewed NIL plans including looking at timelines, numbers, what would and wouldn’t interest student athletes, analytics and wording,” said Riccardi. “I served as a kind of corporate ambassador for the program.”
Part of the CIS internship involved creating a sustainable business model that, as an athlete, she could benefit from through NIL. She worked with Paul Reeder, executive director of the center, to identify a problem in gymnastics and a target audience to research.
“Body image and eating disorders are still a huge problem in gymnastics,” said Riccardi. “While there have been some changes and strides made, I think it will always be there and be a struggle. I wanted to find ways to be part of the solution.”
Riccardi interviewed club and college gymnasts, analyzed the data and statistics she collected, ideated and conceived solutions and developed a financial strategy and budget. Her final outcome was a pitch presentation of her findings, brand and business plan.
“Through an experiential learning process, executed in weekly stages, Nicole created an impactful solution to a problem in her sport and was able to address the needs of the athlete while producing a sustainable business model,” said Reeder.
While she chose not to move forward with the idea, Riccardi’s BGP experience and CIS internship taught her to trust in herself and helped her build confidence.
“At first, I was nervous about doing the internship since I didn’t have any experience,” Riccardi said. “I didn’t think I could come up with a project or idea. I soon realized that if you trust the process and believe in yourself, you can get there, with a little help.”
“Fisher, gymnastics and Bucks Go Pro have taught me a lot about teamwork, collaboration and hearing everyone’s ideas that are brought to the table. All three have allowed me to flourish, hone my time management skills and be more successful under pressure.”
And the experiences have helped refine Riccardi’s original passion — a potential career in finance.
“My favorite part of the Bucks Go Pro classroom was visiting JPMorgan Chase and getting to know the organization. I would love to work at Chase in New York City after graduation,” said Riccardi.