This post was contributed by Emily Clary, graduate student and talent management intern for the Division of Development and Alumni Relations.
Maritza McClendon (BS ’05) originally took up swimming as a way to alleviate the effects of her scoliosis, but it quickly became her passion. She began competing in her home state of Florida and eventually secured a spot on the UGA swim team. In 2004, Maritza became the first African American woman to be a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. Her 400-meter freestyle relay team earned a silver medal at the Summer Games in Athens, Greece.
McClendon swam her last race at the USA Nationals in 2007 before she retired. Afterward, she took a marketing position at Nike, which had previously been her sponsor. She is now the Senior Brand Marketing Manager at OshKosh B’Gosh in Atlanta. She is also a motivational speaker and volunteers with Swim 1922, an organization that offers swim lessons to children of color around the country.
“Seventy percent of African Americans didn’t know how to swim,” McClendon said. “I felt that it was a mission that I wanted to take on… to change that statistic through access to pools, swim lessons and clinics. It’s more than just being able to swim up and down the pool, it’s about being able to save your life.”
Maritza’s dedication to the University of Georgia has not dwindled since her days on the swim team. This summer, she will speak as part of a new Women of UGA initiative called Mentorship Mondays. Learn more about this 2017 40 Under 40 honoree below.
On her fondest memory at Georgia
“After we won NCAA’s, we were invited to be on the 50 yard line at the next UGA football game and we were recognized for winning our national championship. I still have all the pictures from that weekend. It was so amazing to be “Between the Hedges” with all the fans cheering. Nothing beats a Georgia football game day. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
On making history
“There is an element of pressure for every athlete, especially when it comes to making the Olympic Team, but for me it was really about focusing on all the hard work I had done previous to that event, and putting all of that hard work into action.”
On being named 40 Under 40
“It’s kind of like winning an Olympic medal! I’m extremely honored. One of the coolest things about college is when you graduate, you have something that most other people can’t really understand because they didn’t have your college experiences. To be recognized by my school for the things that I’m continuing to do beyond my school career is amazing. I think it’s fantastic that UGA has this program and that they continue to keep track of their alumni and celebrate their wins.”
On giving back
“When I received the 40 Under 40 recognition, I was approached by Women of UGA to be one of the speakers in the Mentorship Monday series. I want to make sure that I’m giving back as much to UGA as they gave me and that I’m encouraging the next class. I think it’s really important that we’re connecting… Growing up, I didn’t take advantage of all the mentorship opportunities I could have. I want to make sure that I am able offer that for other people, because I know there is value in it. I want to give back to the communities that have offered so much for me. We’re networking and offering advice, but we’re also handing the baton to the next class and reminding them to pay it forward.”
On living life in the fast lane
“I’m a huge Fast and Furious fan! My first paycheck went to my first car (a Nissan 350Z). Over the years I started to soup it up: I put in a twin turbo kit, gages, I had a spoiler on the back… I’ve always loved speed, hence I’m a 50 freestyler, so I used to take it to the track in Braselton, put on my helmet and race it down quarter mile runs. I did the whole Fast and Furious thing, I loved the thrill. I don’t race anymore because I’m a mom and I’m trying to be responsible, but put a fast car in front of me and I’ll take it for a spin.”