Nicole Kiley is part of UNLV athletic’s aggressive initiative to improve student-athlete access to holistic services. A master’s level registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, she was hired in 2017 by director of athletics Desiree-Reed Francois as the first sport dietitian for UNLV’s 515 student-athletes.
Before coming here, however, she admits to a common misconception about Las Vegas: That the city lacked community. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she now says.
The sense of community helped with one of her latest accomplishments: launching the Rebel training table inside the Fertitta Football Complex’s Gaughan Family Dining Room. The program ensures that student-athletes in all of UNLV’s 17 varsity programs have access to nutritious meals and came thanks to a unique partnership with the university's world-renowned William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.
“There is a strong community here and we want to see Las Vegas succeed. It is inspiring to be a part of an athletic department and high-performance community that is growing at such an exponential rate," she said.
How would you explain what a sports dietitian does, using just one sentence?
I serve to elevate the performance of our student-athletes by helping them implement targeted and sustainable behaviors with food and supplements.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
Nutrition misinformation and the relentless diet culture industry that projects messaging that we aren't worthy or good enough is by far my greatest challenge as a registered dietitian. Diet culture plants seeds of insecurity and doubt in our student-athletes (and everyone). These seeds sprout into behaviors that not only compromise performance but can become heavy psychological burdens to carry.
My job is to pour truth into our student-athletes, support their resilience, and optimize their health and performance. When we are successful with this, our student-athletes excel today and long after sport.
What did you think you would be doing when you grew up?
In all honesty, I have always just wanted to be the best. Whatever my passion was: practicing martial arts, selling chocolate for a soccer fundraiser, enhancing the sports nutrition industry, I wanted to be the best. I realize now that I have always been able to dream big because I had parents who told me I could and they supplied me with the resources I needed to thrive. That's what I strive to do now with our student-athletes. You can. You will. Let's go!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in beautiful Huntington Beach, California. I am blessed to say that I had a wonderful childhood. I had support, resources, and opportunity. I have grown a lot as a person and leader since working at UNLV. It is humbling to see the resilience of our student-athletes. I get to work with people with so many different passions, barriers, and life experiences. They have lit a fire in me like never before. Seeing them develop as young adults — kicking butt in the classroom and in their sport — is so gratifying.
Tell us about an object in your office.
I have a leather sign in my office that says, "Do good work today." Life isn't always easy. Sometimes I feel worn down and overwhelmed. This sign reminds me that it is my job to show up and give my best. No matter what is going on, my job is to "do good work today" for our student-athletes. This mindset turns any complicated situation into a simple one.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Almost my entire top row of teeth are fake! I fell off of a ladder as a child and had several reconstructive surgeries as a result. I have an expensive set of teeth — sorry Mom and Dad!
Pastimes or hobbies?
My husband and I enjoy the simple things. Whether it's a nice family walk or cheering on our favorite sports teams, anything with quality family time fills my bucket. My favorite hobby is probably kickboxing with my husband. Is there anything more confidence-building than beating the pulp out of a bag?
What books are on your bedside table?
I am usually digging into the Bible or some sort of nutrition book.
What’s the most Vegas thing you’ve done since you got here?
My family loves Cirque du Soleil shows, concerts, and professional fights. We cannot wait to experience these sources of entertainment again soon.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have zero guilt with self-care. I love me a good night of sleep, Mexican food, and a massage. That is a satisfying day in my book!
Your ideal summer vacation is?
Somewhere warm with fewer people, like a lake house. Although a little less relaxing, my family also really enjoys theme parks.
What strikes you as different about UNLV?
This university is special. Our staff and student-athletes are diverse, gritty, and resourceful. Our athletic department seeks to transform lives through a student-athlete experience that prioritizes health and safety. Every decision we make aligns with our mission: graduate leaders, win championships, and excel in all that we do. We know our "why" and our student-athletes feel it. This culture isn't everywhere and our student-athletes know it.
What is it like being on campus now?
This spring we have most of our student-athletes back on campus. While we are still very proactive with our COVID-19 protocols, it is great to have more connection with our student-athletes. I love hearing music in the weight room, laughter in the treatment room, and hustle and bustle in our hallways.
What's the silver lining in the pandemic for you?
This has been a challenging year for everyone. Our values as an athletic department have been put to the test and, I believe, have shined. Under the leadership of Desiree Reed-Francois, our "care factor" and commitment to service is prioritized. Our coaches and staff members have led with humility, personal sacrifice, and grace. It is beautiful to see humanity come together and be strengthened through adversity. We've overcome a lot this past year and our department is stronger now because of it.