Thursday, February 11, 2021
Black History Month Trailblazers: Maritza Correia McClendon
Growing up as a Black female swimmer, Maritza Correia McClendon lacked an idol in the sport who looked like her.
Instead of moving onto a different sport where she could find that person, she chose to look up to someone who was simply fast – Amy Van Dyken – and look past any need she may have had to identify with someone who was Black.
So when it came time for her to be the idol for Black girls and boys in swimming, McClendon took the responsibility very seriously – and it continues to be an integral part of her life even though it’s almost been a decade since her last competition.
McClendon has the distinction of being the first Puerto Rican of African descent to be on the U.S, Olympic team (2004) and win a medal (silver). She also became the first Black female swimmer from the United States to set an American and world swimming record.
McClendon became involved with swimming as a treatment for scoliosis in 1988, and her future as one of the most decorated NCAA swimmers in history was set. She finished her collegiate career at the University of Georgia as a 27-time All-American.
Internationally, McClendon earned a spot on the 1997 USA National Junior Team that competed in Sweden, and two years later, she competed in Hong Kong at the 1999 Short Course World Championships.
In 2001, she won a gold medal and two bronze medals as a member of the U.S. World Championship Team in Japan. Two years later, she earned a gold medal in prelims of the 4x100 free relay at the World Championships, and in 2004, she earned an Olympic silver medal as a member of the 4x100 free relay at the 2004 Athens Games.
Since 2013, McClendon has been the spokeswoman for the Swim 1922 partnership between USA Swimming and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, of which McClendon is also a member. Through Swim 1922, McClendon works with both organizations to increase swim participation in Black communities.
In 2014, McClendon was inducted into the University of Georgia’s Swimming Hall of Fame.
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