By Melissa Berkay, Swimming World College Intern
Taking a step to make a difference in your personal life can enable you to make a difference in the lives of others; that is precisely what Anne Cleveland has done. Born and raised in La Jolla, California, Cleveland was introduced to the sport of swimming when she was 13 years old. She trained with the local YMCA swim team and later the La Jolla High School boys’ swim team, where she earned an ‘A’ in boys’ PE.
She left the water when she was 15, as swimming was not a sport accessible to women beyond the age of 16-17 at the competitive level at that time. Title IX was passed in 1972, after Cleveland had left the water. After becoming a successful business owner in San Diego County, the age of 40 quickly came around and Anne was looking for some inspiration to work on a new project.
In 1996, Cleveland came across an article in the local newspaper about Bob West’s English Channel swimming activities, and optimistically decided it was time to put her toes in the water again. She found West at La Jolla Cove and requested he mentor her in her training. West and the highly-respected Carol Sing advised and supported Anne in her training and long-distance swims. She trained at La Jolla Cove, currently one of the most popular open water marathon swimming training hotspots in the world.
“I heard Bob West’s big, booming baritone voice, ‘Well, Anne, when are you going to swim your first channel?’ and that is what prompted me to get on the phone and book a swim. Bob taught me how to swim next to a kayak and how to do my feeds. A lot of the Cove swimming community members paddled for my channel swims and mentored me along the way,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland recently nominated West for induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an honor contributor. He has been her mentor, as well as a mentor for almost every channel swimmer at La Jolla Cove for over 30 years.
In July of 2004, Cleveland conquered the English Channel by completing the channel crossing both ways. She was the the eighth woman, fifth American and 17th person in history to have completed the double crossing. She is a former world-record holder as the oldest person to have mastered the double-crossing at age 48. She fundraised for the Moore’s Cancer Center.
“When I wanted to quit during the grueling swim, I told myself that individuals fighting cancer do not have the option to quit. So I kept going,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland is a mentor to channel swimmers and give inspirational speeches to organizations, businesses, and conferences.
“I advise individuals to make a consistent, intentional effort towards a goal. Every day keep a goal in mind and make the intention to make a step closer to that goal. Do something everyday towards that goal; the universe understands intention and ritual, and even the minute efforts of work you put into your goal will show in the end,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland was awarded the San Diego Hall of Champions Star of the Month Award and was honored by the Foundation for Women. She was awarded the Gertrude Ederle Award for the Most Meritorious Swim by a Woman in 2004. In 2011, Anne was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame for her successful swims, coaching, and for supporting other open water swimmers.
Now Cleveland has taken another break from the water. She is blending swimming and yoga, both of her passions. Combining yoga with the sport of swimming has become an increasingly popular trend for elite athletes. Yoga increases strength, mobility, body awareness, promotes injury prevention, and is a tool for developing visualization techniques for mental training. Cleveland designs yoga workshops and programs focusing on injury prevention and recovery for athletes. She is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and is a certified as a yoga teacher for cancer therapy training.
“Mindfulness is learning how to manage the mind, and yoga gives us tools to help with this. It is essential in a successful channel swim,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland is a coach and official observer for English and Catalina Channel swims, and an open water consultant to swim coaches. She dedicates a large portion of her time to coaching individuals one-on-one for marathon swimming competitions.
“It is astonishing how the sport of swimming can make a difference in our lives. I would use the word transformational. Swimming gives you a gift, and you can give that gift to others,” Cleveland said.
As most swimmers know, the love for the sport keeps pulling us back to the water. Whether it be competitive swimming in the pool, or cranking out miles in the ocean, a swimmer never loses their bond with the water. Cleveland’s swimming career is far from over, whether it be through coaching, fundraising, or possibly completing another long-distance swim.