Catching Up with Maritza Correia McClendon
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
It wasn’t long ago that all Maritza Correia McClendon needed to pack for a cross-country trip was a few clothes, a couple of bathing suits, swim cap and some goggles.
But when a new position with Nike Swim opened up in Beaverton, Ore., last month, her trip from Bradenton, Fla., where she lived with husband, Chad, and 16-month-old son Kason for several years, entailed much more.
This time she was moving a household as well as all the trappings that go with having a soon-to-be toddler, and it took a lot of planning and packing – but she’s excited about her new opportunity as Sports Marketing Manager for the leading sports manufacturer.
“I manage our grassroots reps and their travel budget,” said Correia McClendon, who started working at Nike Swim a couple of years after retiring from competitive swimming in 2007 following chronic shoulder problems. “I develop short- and long-term strategies for brand awareness through planning, budgeting and implementing sponsorship programs.
“Basically, I'm in charge of all promotional events we do, and I plan out the marketing budget for those events and sponsorship agreements. I'm hoping to increase our visibility and credibility in the swimming world. I want us to be more involved in areas we haven’t been in the past, but we should have been.”
Now two weeks into her new role, Correia McClendon and her family are still acclimating to their new home of Portland. They recently found a house to move into (today), and once they finish unpacking and organizing and find suitable daycare for Kason, Chad will start looking for a job himself.
“Chad’s always been extremely supportive of my career and been more than helpful since we moved and I’m in the office all day,” Correia McClendon said.
Before taking on the roles of mother and wife, Correia McClendon was first and foremost known for her swimming. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, until she was nine, Correia McClendon started swimming because after being diagnosed with scoliosis at age of 6.
Her doctor recommended swimming as a therapeutic remedy. By age 7, she had asked her mom if she could join a year-round swim team in Puerto Rico. Her brother, Justin, came along with her, and she found she discovered a definitive love and talent for the sport.
“I enjoyed swimming right from the get go, but I wasn't the best one in the water right away,” Correia McClendon said. “I had to work to swim fast. I loved to compete and win medals and trophies so I always had a drive to get as many as I could.
“Swimming helped work on my flexibility. My back was constantly in motion and gaining strength, and outside the water, I worked on my posture. To this day, no one can tell I ever had scoliosis. I believe it went away due to swimming and me working on my posture.”
Her family moved from San Juan to Bradenton when she was nine, and then to Tampa, and she quickly rose through the USA Swimming ranks. When she qualified for the USA Olympic Team in 2004, she became the first Puerto Rican of African descent (her parents are both from Guyana in South America) to be on the USA Olympic Swim Team. She also became the first black American swimmer to set a long-course American and World record.
“Earning a spot on the Olympic Team is special for everyone, but it was an even better feeling to know I made history and that I wanted to be a role model to minorities,” said Correia McClendon, a 27-time All-American and 11-time NCAA Champion at the University of Georgia.
In 2007, while gearing up to make a run at a second Olympic Team, nagging shoulder injuries forced Correia McClendon to retire shortly after Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships in Atlanta.
While difficult to accept (she was just 26 at the time), giving up competitive swimming ultimately allowed her to look to the future – a future still connected to the sport she loves.
“I had been battling shoulder problems for several years and the pain just got too bad,” Correia McClendon said. “I tore my labrum in both of my shoulders and needed surgery. It was a tough decision to make right before 2008 Olympic Trials, but it was the best decision.
“Life immediately after swimming was kind of a blur. I remember making sure I was still working out (on land) and staying in shape. I spent more time with friends and spent several weeks in Florida and several at my house in Georgia for about a year. It was tough around the Olympics in 2008 because I really wanted to be there competing, but after all that was over, I linked up with my husband and we spent all of our time together. I had my shoulder surgeries, one in Sept 2008 and the other in Oct 2008 (6 weeks apart).
With her Nike contract up for renewal at the end of 2008, McClendon said she struggled with not knowing what she wanted to do in the “real world,” never having had a real job.
Swimming has been her job for more than six years, but BJ Bedford gave her an insight on a position at Nike Swim that was coming available. At first, she came on board as a consultant for a few months, and then the position of Grassroots marketing rep opened up and she was hired full-time in May of 2009.
Now, almost four years later, she has a completely new life as mother and wife. She said she still gets in the water from time to time because she still does several clinics throughout the year, but she does not do any real training.
She passed on her love of the water (and water safety) onto Kason by getting him in the water at 5 months old and did the mom and tot classes at 6 months.
“He had a blast, I couldn't get him out of the water,” McClendon said. “He has an awesome kick (just like mommy!). He is honestly the happiest baby ever. He is always smiling and laughing and he is so smart. He is very observant and picks up on things quickly and of course he is a daredevil like his daddy! He loves anything on wheels.”
McClendon said despite all of her past accomplishments in the pool, it’s her role as mother and wife that she’s most proud of.
“I love waking up every morning and seeing his (Kason’s) handsome face with that smile of his. It makes my heart melt. I love watching him learn things. It's amazing how he sees my husband and I do something, and he can do it shortly after.
“Becoming a mom had been a lifelong dream. I always wanted to get married and start a family. Getting married in front of God, our family and friends was a blessing and to be able to bring a child into this world is beyond amazing. Chad and I feel blessed every day of our lives because we have a handsome, healthy son and we are expecting our second child at the end of Sept. (I will know the sex of the baby on Monday). Life all in all has truly been a blessing, full of ups and downs, but in the end I wouldn't be here today without yesterday.”