Marcia Cleveland: Long Distance Swimmer

How long could you swim in 58-degree water? Maybe 10 minutes, if your life depended on it. But voluntarily?

Marcia Cleveland swam for 9 hours and 44 minutes and successfully crossed the English Channel in 1994—no wet suit, no stopping. The channel is about 21 miles across, but because of tides, you can’t swim it in a straight line. She estimates she swam about 30 miles that day.

“When I was doing training swims—two hours in 55-degree water, for instance—I realized that this was just one of many baby steps needed to achieve my goal,” she says. “But it was still really, really hard.”

That feat is one highlight in her long and impressive swimming resume. She swam for Yale in college, set the women’s American record for swimming around Manhattan (yes, in the Hudson and East rivers) and was the first woman to complete the Chicago Skyline Swim—Evanston to Calumet—in 2008.

Open water swimming is her passion and she continues to train, swimming 10 to 12 miles a week—which equals roughly a million laps per year—while balancing the demands of her “real life” with husband, Mark, and kids, Julia and Sam.

“Open water swimming is good prep for being a mom,” she says with a laugh. “You have to be able to switch things up at a moments notice.”

Last summer, Marcia and Julia swam across Long Island Sound with a team of friends and raised over $11,000 for St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. Marcia also volunteers with U.S. Masters Swimming, and has led her daughter’s Girl Scout troop for the past seven years. The day we talked, she was on her way to help with her daughter’s swim team’s Hour of Power fundraiser for the Ted Mullin Fund for Pediatric Sarcoma Research.

So once you’ve conquered cold water, waves, jellyfish and sea lice on a long open water swim, what’s next? “Things come up,” says Marcia with a smile and you can tell that she can’t wait for a new challenge.

To sum up her philosophy and drive, Marcia quotes a longtime saying among channel swimmers, “Nothing great is easy.”

Interested in learning more about Marcia’s adventures swimming the Channel? Go to for a link to her book “Dover Solo” and information about her coaching. Need a reason to get wet? Try this article about the benefits of swimming.