A La Jolla High School graduate who was also a hairdresser, a realtor and a yoga instructor, Cleveland was a “fixture” for years swimming at La Jolla Cove training for marathon swims. She “mastered” the English Channel, a 20-mile swim, successfully completing both single- and double-swims of the English Channel. In 2004, she became the oldest person to double-swim the English Channel.
In 2003, at age 48, Cleveland swam from Dover, England, to Cap-Gris-Nez, France, then back — a total of 43 miles. But because she faced high winds, choppy conditions and a strong current off France, experts estimated she actually swam 55 miles, which took her more than 28 hours. At that time, she was the 17th person to complete the double Channel crossing.
Cleveland was an ardent supporter of both the Cove and Children's Pool, where she first learned to swim as a youngster. She also cut her teeth swimming in the annual fall La Jolla Roughwater swim. She swam with men at La Jolla High before the school had a women's swim team.
Cleveland was described by those who knew her as an iconic athlete, a role model and an inspirational person.
“She was marvelously giving, friendly and unpretentious,” said Glen Rasmussen, a La Jolla attorney who was a good friend and successor president of Cleveland on La Jolla Town Council a number of years ago.
Another friend of Cleveland's, Mallory Mead, was once accompanied by Anne who was his "coach" for a professional marathon swim in Argentina.
“Anne Cleveland came to age in a world that wasn’t set up for female athletes,” said Mead. “Every time she spoke about her youth and her competitive swimming years, I got the feeling that she never was afforded the opportunity to fully realize her potential. Many years later, she came back to the sport and remedied that, achieving more than most could even dream about. She was an eternally positive person and a caring, supportive mentor. She had a sharp wit and a delightful sense of humor. She left her mark on my life, for sure.”
"I was awed by her tenacity, discipline and selflessness in always putting the needs of others first," said Dave Schwab, reporter for La Jolla Village News. "She was a La Jollan first, last and always, an ambassador for her community, and an inspiration to all."
Paula Selby met Cleveland initially through the La Jolla Cove Swim Club in the mid-1990s, a period, Selby said, when Anne quit smoking and decided to return to her life-long love of swimming in the ocean at La Jolla Cove. “Our friendship developed over time through weekly gatherings at the Cove and participation in various relay events in the Catalina Channel and Strait of Juan de Fuca,” Selby said. “A mutual friend, Bob West, who was a Channel swimmer and mentor to many aspiring long-distance, open-water swimmers, encouraged Anne to attempt a Channel swim. I was an official observer on her first, unsuccessful attempt (pulled her out of the water), and on her second, successful attempt.”
Selby said she later designed T-shirts to raise funds for Cleveland's English Channel swims.
Selby said Cleveland had supported Catalina Channel swims as an Official Observer for several years. “She was an excellent mentor to other marathon swimmers, and was very meticulous about documenting details about swims in the official log,” Selby noted.
Reflecting back, Selby said of Cleveland, “She was truly a remarkable person who not only achieved extraordinary accomplishments in the sport of marathon swimming, but was also loved and admired by many others she mentored and supported throughout her career. She observed swims for the Federation within a few months of her (cancer) diagnosis. In the face of such adversity, she confronted her illness with the same degree of tenacity she used to achieve her double English Channel swim and age record.”
Selby added Cleveland approached life with the “glass-is-more-than-half full attitude, right up to the very end of her life.”
Selby said one of the last things Anne did was to resubmit a nomination for her friend, mentor and instigator, Bob West, to be inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
“Now my life is complete,” Selby was told by Cleveland after submitting West's nomination. “I am ready to move on.”