By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Maritza Correia McClendon made history as the first black female swimmer to represent the United States in the Olympics. Though her story includes that amazing angle, it includes so much more, from a stellar college career to a post-2000 Olympic Trials bout with depression that took a toll on her. But in the last few months, her life has changed dramatically as she has not just one, but two remarkable guys in her life, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. I see this beautiful baby boy in your arms, Kason, and this amazing man you are married to, Chadwick. Hello Maritza Correia, welcome to the rest of your life, right?
Maritza: It’s all been incredible, yes. I definitely found the perfect guy in Chadwick. He’s a good guy and we get along so well. We had talked about starting a family last year. We were toying with the idea of starting now or later. But we were both ready and at a great position in life. I was more ready than he was. It took some (laughs) convincing. It took us about four months to get pregnant.
2. I don’t remember you having a moment of morning sickness. How fortunate were you for that?
Maritza: Yes, I got so lucky. Talking to all my girlfriends who had kids, they were sick for the first three months. Some were also sick the last three months nonstop heading into delivery. I felt for them so much. But no, I did not get sick at all, didn’t throw up once from being pregnant. I worked out the entire time. Even the day before the delivery, I did a step class for an hour.
3. Kason – where’s that name from?
Maritza: Actually, my father-in-law called us one day and said he heard the perfect boy’s name. This was before we were even pregnant. He said it was Kason, and we loved it. Unfortunately, he passed away last year, but we loved it so much, and we can tell Kason that his grandfather is with us, and named him.
4. How important was it staying in shape?
Maritza: I think it was important, at least for me. Being an athlete and always wanting to stay in shape, I definitely heard good things about staying active when you are pregnant. I made it a goal to work out as long as possible. They don’t recommend working out the last month or so – and I didn’t overdo it in step class or anything – but I felt good being active, so I stayed with it, but under control.
5. So you go for your first doctor’s visit. and you have not just lost the 20 pounds you gained while being pregnant, but 11 more – 31 pounds. How is that possible?
Maritza: I have no idea how that happened. I think it was because I was in shape the whole pregnancy. Literally I had our baby, lost the baby weight and just started getting skinnier. At the two-week appointment when the nurse said, “Let’s go ahead and check your weight,” she said, “You lost…31 pounds?!?!” I had to ask her again. I just worked out and ate well, and having a child, you are always more active than before. It’s leveled off since then, but I do love how I feel.
6. So it wasn’t dieting or anything?
Maritza: Not at all. In fact, it was the easiest 30 pounds I ever lost in my life. Chad, not in a mean way, asked me how I planned to get back in shape after the baby. I lost that weight so fast, and it wasn’t just losing the weight, it was looking healthy and still being in shape that he cared about the most. I think the big thing, and again this is just for me because it’s a personal thing and everyone goes through it in the way that best works for them, is that I didn’t overeat during pregnancy. I ate a normal, five small meals a day. I don’t shy away from good. It’s not that I don’t believe in diets, I am just not a fan. I’d rather workout and cutback here and there and eat smart.
7. You love Florida, but how much do you miss that amazing college, the University of Georgia?
Maritza: I was ready to move on in my life, so it was natural to move on to what came next. But at the same time I love Georgia and I will always love it. I still sport Georgia plates on my car. I miss Georgia this time of year because they are getting ready for conference and NCAAs. But I love being close to mom and living in Florida, especially with her first grandkid here.
8. How are the shoulders you had so much work on toward the end of your career?
Maritza: I feel great. The shoulders are pretty good. I don’t have full range of motion, and don’t know why, but as long as I am not overdoing it, I am fine. I can’t say I am in the water too often, but I do get in and swim when I am getting ready for a clinic, which I just love. I swam 4,000 meters (per workout) the first three months of pregnancy, and didn’t gain a single pound.
9. You must be excited with Olympic Trials approaching?
Maritza: Oh yeah, definitely. Even though I am not swimming at Trials, it’s amazing to be on the other side of the business working for Nike and getting prepared for what will be just an incredible Olympic Trials, and I’ll help show off Nike on deck. It’s just as exciting for us in our role to help make it special for the athletes. I am super pumped to be at a point in my business career where Nike has given me the reins and charged me with heading our program at Trials.
10. How rewarding and meaningful has this job been?
Maritza: It has been great. I can’t complain at all about my life. Working for Nike has been such a great fit, being able to travel and go to meets, I have moved up to be our grassroots marketing manager. Every project I have, my boss puts all his faith in me, and that’s such a great feeling. He will tell me, “You are doing a great job, stay with it,” and it just helps so much to have that support.
11. Back to UGA for a second, what was it like to be a part of the program during that almost magical time of talent and personalities and results?
Maritza: Oh, it definitely was special. I think anyone’s college swimming career is going to be awesome in its own way, because it is such a special experience. But yes, it was an amazing team to be part of, from the teammates and coaches to everyone else, even the parents. I really grew up, and (coach) Jack (Bauerle) was like another dad to me, along with of course my father, and Peter Banks. Jack always checks up on my family, and has always believed in me. He never second guessed what I could do, though of course, I had to (laughs) make some deals with him to let me swim the 50 free at meets!
12. So is the training now like a lot of bricks, so to speak, off your shoulders?
Maritza: I think it’s more a matter of not being able to pick up (laughs) a ton of bricks! My shoulders were hurting pretty bad after 2004; practice was getting harder to complete, and I definitely don’t want to hold back at practice, and I ran my shoulders into the ground because of that. I pushed to the point that I could not put my body through any more pain. I realized I had done everything I could do in swimming, and I really needed to get my shoulders checked out and fixed. So in December 2007, I decided I was done.
13. Not making the team in 2000 and then making it in 2004 – those were among the best Games ever, or is that right?
Maritza: It worked out great in 2004. I mean, it was definitely hard not to make the 2000 Games and everyone talking about Sydney – even Athens people were still talking about how great it was in Sydney – because the Australians did such an incredible job hosting. But I loved my experience in Athens. When we first got there, not everything was completed, but as the Games started, everything was fine. Amanda Beard was my roommate and it was an amazing time. Some people might say Athens doesn’t compare to Beijing or Sydney, but for me, Athens was the ultimate.
14. How impressive is it to see Amanda still going strong at this age?
Maritza: Hey, we’re the (laughs) same age, be careful there! I was working (2011) Nationals on deck, and we caught up. Life is going so well for her. She loves swimming, and she’s still fast!
15. Do you think swimming has also helped you and Amanda be great moms?
Maritza: I think you learn so many life lessons that come with swimming, that you are determined to get through things and take care of those who you care about and care for you. So yes, it makes me want to be the best Mom, too.
16. Have you shown the little guy your Olympic medal yet?
Maritza: I don’t want to knock him out with it. I actually have one of my “Got milk” posters on the wall, and he loves staring at it.
17. You have embraced being an ambassador for the sport and committed to increase diversity. What has that mean to you, especially recently?
Maritza: I’m definitely proud of it. I am working right now with David Arluck and USA Swimming to be more involved. I just needed to find what they needed me to do. I talked to them last year and said, “Hey, I made history, let’s use that as a stepping stone to motivate others.” I want to be a role model for them. This year will be a lot different because I can travel a lot more and get my story out more. I don’t think I will ever shy away from the attention that has come with it, especially since it can be part of helping grow the sport in important areas.
18. You have been so many places as a swimmer. What was the best?
Maritza: It’s funny that you mention it, because we were just talking about this. Someone asked me about the different places I had been, and couldn’t believe I had been to so many countries for swimming. The international trips were amazing. My favorite place was Rome. I just love that city. But every place I went I have a memory of special experiences that I will never forget. You know, you and I talked about my first Junior Team (1997) that went to Sweden, and I look back at that team; Natalie Coughlin, Brendan Hansen – several people who are not only still competing, but are still among the best in the world.
19. Back to the diversity issue: Is it improving, and will it continue to improve?
Maritza: Actually, I think that we are on the right track. We might not see a drastic change soon on the Olympic team, but I can tell you that all the meets I go to, and I go to so many, I see more and more minorities at every meet. There are so many more than when I was swimming, and to see it now makes me so happy. It is slow progress, but we will get there. USA Swimming is very committed to it, and the USA Swimming Foundation and Make a Splash initiative have been very successful. I have wanted to be a part of that, and now that I am, I am so excited about it.
20. That struggle from Olympic Trials and the depression – how difficult was that?
Maritza: It was a hard period of my life. But my parents have always told me everything happens for a reason, and nothing happens before its time. That has stuck in my head so much that I believe it. Now, with the great husband and son, it seems like almost a fairytale ending, but it was actually a hard road from day 1. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because that made me who I am today, and it made me a stronger woman. I strive to be the best I can be, knowing I can get past whatever is slowing me down at a given time. I do not have a single regret because I went through everything I was supposed to go through. I’m glad I didn’t shy away from the topics that were tough. I look back now at how that helped me build my personal brand, and because of that I can relate to people about these challenges and the struggles – and all the good that came from that because I had great people in my life, and never gave up. Having put forth so much to get through some of the challenges, it makes it even more meaningful that people can take something from my story, relate to it, and maybe have it help them move forward in their journey. Swimming has given me so much. It feels great to give back, and to be getting more “teammates” in my life every time I go out and talk about this amazing sport, and the incredible people in it.