By Nicole Phelps
Lotta Nevalainen, a junior in communication and member of the NC State Swim Team, stepped foot in America for the first time when she was moving from her home to begin college at NC State. Originally from a small town in Finland, Imatra, Nevalainen was making a bold move, far away from friends and family, to attend a university in an unfamiliar country.
For her, this bold move originated with her love of swimming and desire to continue her education. “The water has always been my element,” said Nevalainen. Her connection to swimming meant she was not willing to give up either of her goals ─ to swim competitively and attend college. Since it is impossible to combine college and sports in Finland, she set her sights on colleges outside of the country. Her brother, Anssi Nevalainen, attended Averett University in Danville, Virginia, to play football, and his example helped her realize that she wanted to continue her schooling in the U.S.
Language barriers were not a big problem for Nevalainen. Starting in third grade, students are taught English in Finland. TV shows have Finnish subtitles, but are not voiced over, so she was already accustomed to hearing English on TV as well as the radio. Despite her previous experience, she spoke a very formal version of English. Now, she has picked up on slang and become more comfortable with the language.
When it came time to pick a specific school, NC State was the option that felt right to her. Coaches Todd DeSorbo and Braden Holloway were influential in her decision. She never took a recruiting trip to the university, but she would videochat with them. The NC State Swim Team has been improving in the past four years, and that improvement is another factor that drew Nevalainen to the program.
Balancing school, swimming and a social life is a talent that took some time for her to figure out. There is some sort of practice every day of the week except Sunday. Practice extends beyond the water with weights sessions and workouts called dryland, which includes boxing, core work, jumping rope and stretching exercises. Swim practice and workouts take about 20 hours of the week, so Nevalainen is careful with scheduling.
Making sure she has time to get her homework done before practice because she knows she will be exhausted afterwards is an important consideration when planning classes each semester. Her ability to successfully manage all of her responsibilities is an admirable quality that helps her be a leader in and out of the water. “She is such a vocal and positive leader. She makes the environment a lot of fun,” said teammate Kayla Brumbaum.
Right now, Nevalainen is working hard to make her dreams come true and has her sights set on the Finnish Olympic Team. “She is determined. If anyone could do it, it’s her,” said teammate Kendall Pena.
Her passion and commitment to swimming shows through these goals she has set and her achievements so far. “I won’t be done swimming until I have done everything I could have. No regrets. No question marks. I want to give everything, and leave nothing,” said Nevalainen.
Beyond swimming, friendship and music are a huge part of her life. She loves listening to music every chance she gets, especially as she walks to class. Since moving, she has fallen in love with American culture because she finds that her personality fits in well. Specifically, she likes that Americans are outgoing and willing to engage in small talk. After she graduates, she hopes to stay in the U.S. and continue with graduate education.
“These past couple of years have been the hardest, but also the best years of my life. I have grown so much as a person,” said Nevalainen. She has no regrets about moving to Raleigh and is looking forward to what the next few years have to offer, both in the pool and classroom.