When she left Yale, she left the swimming pool behind. That's because Marcia Cleveland found the open water and has become a prolific marathon swimmer.
Fewer than 800 people have successfully navigated the waters of the English Channel since 1875. On July 29, 1994, former Yale swimmer Marcia Cleveland became the 445th. The journey -- 23.69 miles in choppy, 58-degree waters -- took nine hours and 44 minutes.
For many, a tedious, exhausting adventure of that magnitude would be the culmination of years of training and preparation. For Cleveland, it was just one of many achievements on a remarkable swimming resume.
Cleveland first learned to swim at 18 months and has rarely been out of the water since. A captain of the swim team at Greenwich High School in the early 1980s, her team went undefeated in her final two seasons as she earned All-American status.
Growing up in Connecticut -- having competed in swim meets at Payne Whitney -- the school's 'general excellence of reputation' and the swim team all helped Cleveland decide on Yale for college. In her tenure with the Bulldogs, Cleveland's highlights included defeating Princeton in dual meets, making close bonds with her teammates and achieving some of her best times in the pool.
Upon graduating in 1986 with a B.A. in psychology, Cleveland went to work at an ad agency in New York. It was there she met her husband Mark Green and began her foray into open water swimming, tagging along with friends. Cleveland found the open water even more appealing than a pool.
"It's sort of like running cross country and running sprints," Cleveland said. "The mechanics are the same, but the terrain is different."
Cleveland liked the consistency of going one speed over an extended period of time.
"I never had tons of speed, so my endurance just takes over in the open water," Cleveland said.
Cleveland began her competitive open water swimming in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Competing solo and in relays, she has completed the 28 1/2-mile swim around the island five times, establishing the women's American record in 1996 with a time of 5:57:53.
"I really busted my butt on that one," Cleveland said. "I was swimming just right with the current, I guess. I don't know of anyone who has touched that time."
Since her initial swim across the English Channel in 1994, Cleveland has crossed it as a relay in 1998, crewed for successful crossings in 1994, 1996 and 1998 and completed the fastest two-way relay time in 2001 in 18 hours, 48 minutes.
After numerous requests for her help with training for the Channel swim, Cleveland wrote Dover Solo about her experience crossing the Strait of Dover in 1999.
"I wanted to write all the details down so I wouldn't have to try and remember everything," Cleveland said. "It's nice for me to see other people aspiring to goals and hopefully reading my book can help them along their way."
In addition to her many swims and writing a book, Cleveland became a mother in February 1998, welcoming daughter Julia. Her son Samuel was born December 2000. While her priorities have obviously gone to her family, Cleveland's desire to achieve additional swimming goals has not subsided since becoming a mother.
"I have two kids, so my energy and effort is obviously different than it used to be," Cleveland said. "But I also know that I don't have any regrets about things I haven't done yet."
In 2005, Cleveland returned to marathon swimming, completing the 21-mile Catalina Channel swim. For the first time, she and two other swimmers swam almost stroke-for-stroke from the island of Catalina, just off the coast of Los Angeles, to Palos Verdes, Calif., just south of Los Angeles. At age 41, Cleveland finished the swim in a time of eight hours, 56 minutes, the world's fastest time that year.
While her swims have been less frequent in recent years, Cleveland's dedication to swimming has not waned. She and her family have been living in Winnetka, Ill., since 2003 and she has been an active member of the United States Masters Swimming program. She is currently serving a four-year term as the national chair of the USMS Long Distance Committee.
Her swimming focus may have moved from the waters to administration, but don't be surprised to see her make another assault on the open-water swimming record books.
"I always have ideas in my head about what goal I need to accomplish next," Cleveland said. "It just takes me a little longer to get to it these days."
— Josi Carlson