Loch Raven swimmer Kylliainen a fish in water

Senior swims for Loyola-Blakefield Aquatics club, Finnish national team

  • Tanja Kylliainen is a senior at Loch Raven and swims for the Loyola Aquatics Club and the Finnish national team.
Tanja Kylliainen is a senior at Loch Raven and swims for the Loyola… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
September 08, 2010|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

To be a great swimmer, Loyola swim coach Keith Schertle says a person has to have "very good legs, very good kick and be born with a body that flows through water easily."

But on top of that, Schertle — who coaches Loch Raven senior Tanja Kylliainen in the Loyola-Blakefield Aquatics program — said a swimmer has to be committed to "working like a dog."

In Kylliainen, 5 feet 1, 120 pounds, Schertle has such a swimmer and Loch Raven has such a student. Kylliainen carries a 4.9 weighted grade-point average and is a United States Olympic Trials Qualifier in the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley, placing first in the 200 fly and 400 IM. She broke the meet records at the 2010 Spring Speedo Sectional Championships Series.

Holding dual citizenship in the U.S. and Finland, Kylliainen also holds the Finnish national record in the 400 IM (4 minutes, 49.73 seconds) and will swim for that country in the 2011 World Championships in China.

"You have to see her swim to appreciate what she can do," Schertle said. "She has hands and feet like a seventh grader and she's five-feet nothing. But good things come in small packages."

Question: You are a dual citizen. How did that happen?

Answer: I was born here and my dad is a citizen of Finland. Dad's from a small town near Lappeenranta and that's also the name of the club I swim for in Finland. I haven't always been a citizen of Finland. My parents brought it up to me about five years ago when I was 12 and I just decided to do it. My dad's family is still there. But sometimes it is kind of weird. My mom says she's the only one in the family who can't go to Cuba, because she's from [the U.S.].

Q: How did you get started in swimming and when?

A: I started at Meadowbrook Swim Club when I was five. I've been with Loyola for nine years. My mom signed me up. I had no idea I was going to do summer swimming but this is my 14th year. I got competitive when I saw my older sister Erin [Wendell] coming home with trophies. I wanted trophies.

Q: You hold the national record for the 400 IM in Finland and will swim for them at the world competition next year. Does the general public know who you are there?

A: The swim people know who I am and when I set the national record, friends my dad hadn't see in 20 years called with congratulations.

Q: Did you become a Finnish citizen so you could compete on their national team and possibly make the Olympics?

A: No. I swam there the first time so my family in Finland could see me swim. After that, I was asked by the Finnish officials to swim for them. But I never thought about the Olympics until about two years ago.

Q: Are your friends at Loch Raven aware of the swimming success you're having?

A: They're aware, but they don't know how much goes into it.

Q: How much do you put into it?

A: About 20 hours a week. During the school year last year I was getting up at 5 a.m. to get to morning practice. This year it's a little better because practice is at 7:30 instead of 6:30. But this summer we practiced every morning at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and again at nights on Tuesday and Thursday. On Monday and Wednesday I swim for a summer team with two-hour meets on those nights at Campus Cabana in Towson.

I love the competition and I've grown accustomed to working hard. I could play team sports, but they're definitely not as intense. I know what a high school field hockey team puts in. I played as a freshman at Loch Raven and it's not what I was used to. It was fun and my best friend played on the team, but I can see the difference in terms of work put in. If you're not a swimmer you don't understand.

Q: Don't you ever get tired?

A: Yeah, I get tired. I've been tired for years. I could sleep for 12 hours every day, but there aren't enough hours to do what I want to do.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I dance once a week at Towsontowne Rec. Over the years I've taken point ballet, where you dance on your toes, Maori, which is Hawaiian dancing, and tap as well. This year I'm taking ballet, hip hop and jazz. Dancing is fun, not strict and I like hip hop better than anything else.

Q: What activities do you participate in at Loch Raven?

A: We don't have a swim team there. I take part in a program called Relay for Life sponsored by the American Cancer Society. We raise money for six months and have a walk. Last year we raised more money than any other school in the country, $52,000. After the walk, we honor all the survivors of cancer at Loch Raven, families we know. It's held at the end of April.

Q: You're graduating next spring. Do you have plans for college?

A: Actually, I'll be through with my classes in December. I'm taking honors economics, forensics science and AP calculus and a British literature course at the Community College of Baltimore County. I'm taking the CCBC course because it's finished in December. Then in January, I'm moving to Finland for about three months so I can spend time with my family, become fluent in Finnish — I will be representing Finland nationally on the swim team and I want to be able to speak the language — and I want to get closer to my teammates there. I talk to them a lot on the computer.

As for college, I want to do something in science or the medical field. I've thought about pre-requisites for a medical degree and right now I'm taking my recruiting trips to the University of Louisville, Notre Dame, University of North Carolina, the University of Virginia and Auburn.


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