Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Olympic swimmer's inspiration ripples through 'Black Kids Swim'

Simone Manuel, left, Maritza Correia McClendon, center, and Lia Neal in Omaha at the U.S. Olympic Trials after Manuel and Neal made the Olympic team. (Courtesy of Maritza Correia McClendon)

Simone Manuel, left, Maritza Correia McClendon, center, and Lia Neal in Omaha at the U.S. Olympic Trials after Manuel and Neal made the Olympic team. (Courtesy of Maritza Correia McClendon)

ST. PETERSBURG — Maritza Correia McClendon, a former Tampa Bay Tech and University of Georgia swimmer and 2004 Olympic medalist, hears the stories. They break her heart.

"We were doing a swim clinic in Seattle," Correia McClendon said. "Three weeks before it, one of my sorority sisters, her employer's daughter, drowned in a river. She was 7 years old. She was in the water and she didn't really know how to swim. The current just took her away. A beautiful little girl."

Summer is here. Correia McClendon, 35, has teamed with Bounce TV network, the YMCA and the non-profit Black Kids Swim to encourage children to learn to swim, particularly young African-Americans, who drown at 5.5 times the rate of other children. Correia McClendon has done a public service announcement in the name of the initiative.

"It's a mission for me," Correia McClendon said. "Making the Olympics was a dream come true, but it also empowered me to reach people."

Correia McClendon has long been an inspiration. Her family moved to Tampa from Puerto Rico when she was 9. She won six individual state titles at Tampa Bay Tech and was an 11-time NCAA champion at Georgia. And at the 2004 Athens Olympics, she became the first African-American woman to make the U.S. swim team and won a silver medal as part of 400-meter freestyle relay.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Simone Manuel became the first U.S. African-American to win an Olympics individual swim event. After her victory, Manuel mentioned Correia McClendon as one of her heroes.

"It meant the world," Correia McClendon said.

So does her current mission. Correia McClendon cited the research: 70 percent of African-American children and 60 percent of Hispanic children lack basic swim skills.

"We're not saying black kids can't swim, but they typically don't venture into swimming" Correia McClendon said. "It's saying we need to learn how to swim. As much as it's not a racial thing, the facts don't lie. We have to move the needle by getting kids into formal swim lessons. It's about adults, too. The chances of your child not being able to swim are drastically higher if you don't know how to swim. Swimming is more than a sport. It's a live saving skill."

Correia McClendon, who is married with two children, lives in Atlanta, where she is a brand marketing manager for Carter's Inc., a baby clothing company. She will spend 20 weekends this year doing water safety and swim clinics around the country.

"I had an 80-year-old woman get in the water," Correia McClendon said. "She didn't know how to swim. She was tense at first, but within 15 minutes, I had her floating on her back. She came to me four months later and told me she's taking water safety lessons at her YMCA. Every story like that is a victory.

"I worked with twins from Arizona not too long ago. Two young girls. Very timid. So we just sat on the steps and blew bubbles for half an hour. I went to work with another group, but I looked over and they were swishing their arms in the water. They learned. They told me, 'Miss Maritza, now we can go to pool parties!'"

Two beautiful little girls.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029. Follow >@mjfennelly.>

Tampa Olympic swimmer's inspiration ripples through 'Black Kids Swim' 06/16/17 [Last modified: Friday, June 16, 2017 11:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. The Lightning's 2017-18 road jersey
  2. For starters: Ramus to DL, Peterson back, no further moves

    Blogs

    We were expecting a flurry of roster moves this afternoon and we got one. OF Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.

    Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.
  3. Jameis Winston stats: How the Bucs QB performed under pressure

    Bucs

    Every quarterback's performance declines when he faces pressure from the defense.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston faced pressure on more than 30 percent of his pass plays last season. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Could Lightning deal for a defenseman today?

    Blogs

    Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been trying to further bolster his blueline, and he may have a chance to acquire one by tonight's first round of the NHL Draft.

    The Lightning is reportedly in on Travis Hamonic (Islanders), though New York is rumored to be asking for two-first round picks.
  5. SI ranks Quinton Flowers on top 100, above Deondre Francois

    Blogs

    Sports Illustrated's ongoing countdown of the top 100 players in college football includes some high praise for USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.