By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Maritza Correia-McClendon looks back on her career more fondly than ever, and now that she has moved to Nike headquarters in her long-held job with the sports outfitter, she is excited about the challenges and opportunities of building her career. She’s also excited from what she is seeing in the increase of minority swimmers. She and her husband Chad welcomed their second child into the world recently. She talks about everything going on in her life, and just how she got to where she is today, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. I see there is now a daughter to join you, your husband, and your adorable son?
Maritza: Yes, definitely! I was beyond ready to give birth! It’s been great. Sanaya is such a great baby already. We went to the doctor today and she’s very healthy, and doing very well.
2. What a great name, where’s that from?
Maritza: Actually, do you remember the movie “Love and Basketball,” and the actress Sanaa Lathan (who played Monica). Well, I came up with Sanaya to put our own influence on it. I had to (laughs) think of a good name, right?
3. I see your husband is once again stepping up like he did with you and his son – and your son, Kason, has been helping out with his little sister, correct?
Maritza: Dad’s been helping out a lot of nights. Kason’s also helping out a lot, feeding her, and just giving her kisses all the time – I don’t get kisses, only his sister gets them! I was a little nervous because he was so attached to me, but so far it’s gone really well.
4. Well, you and Chadwick did it right, a son and a daughter – you have the whole set now, right?
Maritza: There you go, definitely! You know, actually I definitely wanted to have a girl at some point. My husband got (laughs) the first pick, and he got the boy. The second time around, he really wanted me to get what I wanted, and at the 20 week appointment, we found out it’s a girl.
5. You’re an ol’ pro at this now, down to your pre-baby weight a month after giving birth – was the process itself harder or easier?
Maritza: Well, labor this time around was a lot easier, just five or six hours, and I pushed for maybe 20 minutes. It was a lot easier. If you were talking to me two days ago, I’d be grumpy. But she’s already in routine and eating better, so we have that down pat.
6. You move to one of my favorite cities on earth, Portland – but that’s very different from where you have been – what’s it been like?
Maritza: You know, I have always heard great things about Portland, and what a great city it is. I was nervous being pregnant, with my mom so far away, but everything has gone so well, and my Mom came out here to be with the baby and the rest of us, so it’s been a great transition. Chad loves Portland, and can’t get enough of the outdoors, so it’s perfect for him, too.
7. Now you are at the headquarters, who would have thought after retirement from swimming you’d have such a role?
Maritza: I know, I never would have guessed it, honestly. It’s just so weird how everything works out. My co-workers are awesome. It’s different going into an office now (after being a consultant and working in the field after retiring). But going into the office is awesome because I get to be a part of everything going on, working with the designers, the tech people, the most talented people I could ever have imagined working with.
8. So the transition “inside” has been good?
Maritza: Yes, I love it, I absolutely love it. Working with people who are so awesome makes it really a great environment for me to both learn and participate. I mean, I kind of knew what was going on, but not really compared to what I experience on a daily basis now. Here, I get to see patterns going together, and work with the tech team on how the suit fits. So it is nice to be in the heart of what’s going on.
9. The company is moving forward in swimwear still?
Maritza: Definitely, and with the way things are going at the office, we expect to head into a great year next year, and see some programs and people wearing our elite suits in the water. Everything going on in the pipeline is fantastic, so it should set us up for a great run up to Rio.
10. You wore the company’s suit when you competed, and then transitioned into a role and made it a career – what does that say about the fit for you?
Maritza: It is a great match for me. I couldn’t ask for anything better. Life is great. I was able to be an athlete for Nike for six years, and then a position opened up, and after taking it, the sky has been the limit. Moving here and taking it to the next level and transitioning into a new phase in my career…I feel very fortunate to be part of it. I am proud of this – proud where my career has taken me. My boss, Christopher Montella, who runs the marketing department for us, tells me he sees how successful I can be, and makes sure I push myself even harder. I learned that discipline and drive as a swimmer, and now I’m determined to keep applying it to my job and career. If you want to be the best in anything, and the best you can be in anything, you have to believe and know in your head and heart that nothing can stop you.
11. Does being at the headquarters change how you do things?
Maritza: Being here in Portland, I have started to learn the ins and outs of the company. This is a company that prides itself on having the best product on the market for every sport. I was able to learn the Nike way of doing things. So I learned better than ever the values of the entire company, the Nike brand and how they want to be represented. It’s fantastic to be at the heart of it.
12. What was it like seeing your Georgia women win another NCAA title and seeing so many Georgia swimmers shine at the Olympics and Worlds?
Maritza: It does, definitely, mean a lot to me. To see the Georgia girls getting recognized has been fantastic, and it means more knowing it is going on after our generation left. That is such a great time; I loved college swimming – I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved it, or how much it meant to be at the University of Georgia.
13. We’ve been talking for more than a decade, through all the successes and challenges. I remember near the end of your career when you couldn’t even lift your shoulder – how do you view that time, looking back on it now?
Maritza: Definitely, it was a hard decision to have those surgeries and go through that. I definitely learned a lot about perseverance and dealing with challenges. I think all that has led me to this job now and being part of the swim industry, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I still go to Nationals and Olympic Trials, and hopefully I will be in Rio and see Katie Ledecky and Missy, along with the veterans like Natalie and Ryan.
14. What about seeing Lia Neal and Simone Manuel, two African-American swimmers who have carried on your tradition in the Olympics, and Worlds, respectively?
Maritza: My hearts beats a little faster – I get so excited seeing them do so well and how they represent themselves, their teams, their families and the sport. At this point I know Simone a little better than Lia, but I love hearing the excitement in their voices. I have actually kept in touch with Simone for several years, so to see how she has matured and become so confident has meant so much to me. I am excited for Lia going to college (at Stanford) and being a part of that team – I told her how awesome that experience is and I know how great she is going to do in it. We are seeing, in those two and others, where swimming is starting at a younger age, and they improve at a great rate.
15. Watching Lia on the night relay in London, what did that mean to you personally, since a lot of people thought you deserved to be on the final relay after your outstanding prelim swim?
Maritza: Lia did and that was so great. I was talking to her the night before, and I said, “I really hope you are on the night relay.” She texted me right back, “I am on the night relay.” I thought, Finally! She did a great job on that relay, and I know she will go as far as she wants in the sport.
16. What does diversity mean to the sport?
Maritza: I think it’s good for swimming to have a team with all these different, amazing people. That’s why people are attracted to the sport, to see all these different personalities and cultures. The diversity brings quite a bit extra to it.
17. What do you think of the younger generation – teens mostly – making such a big mark on the international stage for USA Swimming?
Maritza: You know, their generation is very strong. Watching our generation grow up, I wanted to do exactly what they are doing! I wanted us to be the best in the world. You see that confidence in them when they stand up behind the blocks. This is one of the best younger generations we have ever seen. We might not see for a long time a complete change over like we have seen in the last four years with this generation – this is a group that could carry us through 2020, but watch, you start to think that way, and another generation is inspired and comes up and can take it to another exciting level.
18. The silver medal from the Athens Olympics relay and silver from 2001 Worlds, and then bronze and silver at short course words, and the five international gold medals – two from Pan Ams, ironically in Rio, and three golds from WUGs in Turkey – what an impressive list that stands up to this day and to points beyond. What does it mean when people talk to you about this slew of international hardware and being a pioneer in the sport for African American and Puerto Rican swimmers?
Maritza: It’s still exciting and still brings a huge smile to my face. I get a lot of messages on Facebook, from the (swim) Moms more than anything, and they tell me that some people think of me as a “pioneer” – that means a lot to me, that someone would want to follow and build upon what I have done.
19. So perhaps there will be a team with all kinds of nationalities some day at the Olympics for the U.S.?
Maritza: Yes, and we are heading in that direction – and I’d love to be present when that happens. With all these talented swimmers coming up, you just know it’s going to keep happening and more people are going to come into our sport, and spur the growth exponentially in the diverse communities and cultures.
20. Pretty different conversation for us today, let’s end it with something obvious: Will your kids swim?
Maritza: That’s entirely up to them, but they will know how to swim, absolutely, all kids should learn that. But my son, oh my gosh, he already loves the water! When I gave my daughter her first bath, the moment I set her in the water she really calmed down and was relaxed, so the water has a tremendous effect on her. The water will always be part of our lives.