By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Shenendehowa senior Karen Silaika is excited to start her college career at Le Moyne College in the fall, reassured by the thought that she already has a family to call her own — the swim team.
Silaika has been on Shenendehowa’s varsity swim team since ninth grade, though she first got involved in the world of swimming by joining a summer league in sixth grade. “The first summer was hard,” she recalled. “Most people had already been swimming for three or four years so they were a lot better than me,” Silaika added.
Now swimming is a year-round commitment for Silaika. She’s wrapped up with the school’s varsity program in the fall and continues with the club team throughout the rest of the year. She competes in 200 yard, 500 yard and mile races, though she’ll tell you her speciality is distance. Silaika clocked in at 18:57 minutes for her personal best mile time in March of 2015.
Her passion for swimming is rooted in her deep-seated competitiveness — she’s always raising her expectations. When she first began swimming competitively, she never imagined she would enjoy it so much, or improve so dramatically. Now, she said, “swimming is one of the most important things in my life.” She considers the team family now.
“No matter how fast you are, everybody is accepting and loving,” she said. Silaika remembers looking up to the older girls on the team when she first started and now enjoys being a role model for her younger teammates.
With five younger siblings, Silaika is used to being a role model. She said it can be challenging “living with five other mini-mes” — eight year old Genevieve, 10 year old Sophia, 12 year old Xavier, 14 year old Isabella and 16 year old Victoria. Silaika added, “There’s never a dull moment.” According to Silaika “they all swim, too.”
This fall, Silaika will leave Shenendehowa behind for Le Moyne College in Syracuse where she hopes to major in business and minor in finance. She was drawn to Le Moyne’s high-ranking business school and the college’s welcoming swim team.
Her fascination with business dates back to a visit to her father’s work when she was in fifth grade. Her father, Todd Silaika, is a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch while her mother, Beth, designs stamps. Her parents were highschool sweethearts, having both grown up in Niskayuna. “I liked that he had a social job,” she recalled. “He was able to interact with different kinds of people. His job was important, not only to himself, but to his clients as well,” she said.
Some other colleges Silaika was considering include SUNY Geneseo, Ithaca, Saint Lawrence, SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Oneonta.
When she’s not swimming laps or in class, Silaika has been active in Shenendehowa’s musical productions. She’s been in the school’s productions of Beauty and the Beast, Greece and her favorite, The Music Man. She was also part of an a capella ensemble that sang in Carnegie Hall last March, an experience she described as “one of the coolest things” she’s ever had the opportunity to do.
Silaika made her first live theatre performance in third grade. She said it took some time to get over her nerves but after earning her first lead role at a summer camp play she said, “I felt like I could conquer the world.”
As she reflects on her high school career, Silaika said she’s most proud of “going through high school with such diverse experiences — being able to do so many different things at once.” She added, “Without all those things I wouldn’t be as interesting or well-rounded.” She has also worked as a lifeguard at the town pool since 10th grade.
Silaika said her English Masterpieces teacher Joseph Kott has been one of her favorite teachers at Shenendehowa because “He is very open to all of his students and he’s understanding.”
If she could meet anyone, Silaika said she’d like to meet Alexander Hamilton since he established the first national bank, the coast guard and “was George Washington’s right hand man.”
In 10 years, Silaika hopes to be living in New York City working for a firm as a financial advisor. Her dream internship would be on Wall Street or with Goldman Sachs.
QUICK Q & A:
Q: Favorite musician
A: Maroon 5
Q: Favorite Book
A: Hunger Games series
Q: Favorite movie
A: The Bourne Legacy
Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Q: What are your thoughts on the presidential candidates?
A: I went to see Kasich in Saratoga with my friend Leah Constable. I’ve always liked him because he’s the most moderate and he’s intelligent.