Different Strokes

Extraordinary skill, versatility define Oakland University alumna Patricia Aschan’s unparalleled swimming career

Photo of Oakland University swimmer Patricia Aschan diving into the pool

Oakland University graduate Patricia Aschan takes a dive. Photo by Jose Juarez.

Making A Splash

icon of a calendarJune 29, 2017

icon of a pencilBy Fritz Reznor

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The individual medley (IM) is the most difficult of all swimming events because the competitors have to cover all four styles — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle — over 200 and 400-yard distances. Most successful IM swimmers excel in three of the strokes but are weaker in one of the others. It is truly rare to find a swimmer who can master all four. But Patricia Aschan is that rare exception, and the Finland native is arguably Oakland University’s best all-around women’s swimmer in its storied history.

Aschan, who graduated in April with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, helped the Golden Grizzlies to four consecutive Horizon League championships by winning the 400-yard IM all four years and the 200-yard IM three times. She also won individual league titles in the 200-yard butterfly in 2015, the 200-yard backstroke in both 2016 and 2017, and swam on eight championship relay teams during her career. In all, she set or aided in an incredible 18 first place finishes at the league championships.

Aschan’s accomplishments at the Horizon League Championships earned her the Female Swimmer of the Meet and Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year each of the last three seasons.

Head coach Pete Hovland had an inkling of what lay ahead for Aschan after watching her swim for the first time in person at the start of her freshman year in 2013. 

“My staff and I were sitting there anxiously, just watching them go through all four strokes,” Hovland recalls. “So Patricia starts swimming, and it’s beautiful … effortless. We watched her go through all four strokes, and we were, like, ‘Gosh, she doesn’t have a weakness.’ Her form was so natural and so easy. And she came here with a distance background, so we figured the IM was going to be her thing.”

Aschan holds school records in both IM events and recorded top five times in school history in the 100-yard breaststroke, the 200-yard butterfly, the 200-yard backstroke and three different freestyle distances. She also is a part of three relay team school marks.

In April, she was named Oakland’s Female Athlete of the Year at the 2017 Black and Gold Awards, a repeat winner from 2016 and the first ever two-time winner of the award.

“It is such an honor” she says, “especially knowing that we have so many great student-athletes at Oakland. Being the first to be named the Female Athlete of the Year twice is something I am really proud of. I believe that my success — and everyone else’s, as well — tells a lot about our team’s level of competitiveness and success.”

A Finnish national record-holder in three different events as a teenager, Aschan says the adjustment from European competition to swimming at the intercollegiate level was not as difficult as getting used to some of the everyday cultural differences.

“One thing that was hard to get used to was the ‘small talk,’” she says. “You know when people walk up to you and say, ‘What’s up?’ At first, I didn’t know how to respond, because we don’t do that in Europe. We just say ‘Hi.’ Another thing was the food. We don’t have nearly the number and variety of fast-food restaurants that they have here.”

As for her first such meal in the U.S.? “Taco Bell! We don’t have that in Finland, and now I just love Taco Bell.” 

Aschan’s success at Oakland is not limited to the Aquatic Center. She graduated with a 3.66 grade point average, was named to the Horizon League Winter All-Academic team each of the last three years and is a six-time Horizon League Honor Roll selection.

Aschan wants to stay in the U.S. and attend graduate school to study industrial and organizational psychology, eventually pursuing career in human resources and leadership development. She also intends to continue swimming competitively and hopes to represent Finland at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, China, in August, as she did at the 2015 Games in South Korea.

As skilled a competitor as Aschan was, Hovland says he is most grateful for her willingness to play whatever role he asked of her. “She’d always say, ‘Whatever is best for the team.’ She accepted it and embraced it wholeheartedly and with open arms. She was on board with everything we did. If you have a team full of Patricias, you can’t go wrong.”

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