Former Olympic Swimmer Maritza Correia McClendon Gives Back to the Hispanic Community
Maritza Correia McClendon is an Olympic athlete with a plethora of accomplishments under her belt. Not only was she the first woman of Puerto Rican descent to become a member of the U.S. Olympic swimming team, but she was the first black American swimmer to set a record in both America and worldwide.
McClendon began swimming after receiving a life-changing diagnosis at age six.
“My mom was a nurse and noticed something was wrong. My back was curved 25 degrees off center,” McClendon said.
McClendon was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition in which the curvature of the spine is sideways.
As a means of physical therapy, doctors suggested McClendon participate in a sport that would help straighten her spine, such as swimming or gymnastics.
But considering her family’s stature, she knew that gymnastics would be an option.
“I knew I was going to be too tall for gymnastics. My dad was 6’2,” she said. “Growing up in Puerto Rico, we were surrounded by water, so it was a natural fit to take swim lessons.”
Swimming is the fourth most popular activity in the United States, and is lauded for its low-impact yet aerobic value.
McClendon began taking lessons and from there, her love for swimming blossomed. In addition to her skill level, the athlete’s confidence soared, too.
She quickly understood that swimming was her passion, so she joined a local swim team.
As she grew up, her talent and prestige skyrocketed, as she went from backyard swimming to swimming for the University of Georgia to finally swimming for the United States Olympic Team.
Recently, McClendon was inducted into the Georgia Hall of Fame.
And the swimming star is set on using her fame for good. McClendon has recently become an advocate for teaching others how to swim — specifically in Latino and African American communities.
According to statistics, 70% of African-American children and 60% of Hispanic children are unable to swim.
In order to raise awareness, McClendon is the face of Swim 1922 for sorority Sigma Gamma Rho’s partnership with the organization USA Swimming, which helps to prevent drowning within minorities communities.
“I may not be a competitive swimmer any more, but it has brought back my joy. It is wonderful to see my sorority sisters and other people who have been afraid of the water now excited about swimming.”
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