Marciano bonded with his new team, and he was swimming well. College powerhouses like Michigan and Arizona State contacted him. But his grades cratered. He barely saw his friends. Swimming became a job.
“I loved competing, but it got to the point where I hated going to practice,” he said.
It took about six months for him to work up the nerve to tell his parents that he was thinking of taking a break. They were supportive, but also told him: “You shouldn’t make this decision in haste.”
Marciano knew his motivation had evaporated, however, when he went to Ithaca, N.Y., for a meet with his club team and didn’t look up any times beforehand. So when he was told that he got a best time in the 50 freestyle, he didn’t feel much joy. After that, he only competed in high school meets, mostly to be around friends.
“I saw a never-ending ladder — no matter what I did, there was always going to be something I was expected to achieve,” he said.
The next year, Marciano visited Zion National Park with his father. He was mesmerized by people climbing walls and buttresses. So he headed for the rocks.
“It’s a liberating sport,” he said. “It’s collaborative.”
Marciano is not disconnected from swimming. He occasionally teaches lessons, and he has attended the Big East championships to support a former club teammate.
“I’m not like, oh, I wasted 10, 11 years of my life,” said Marciano, an aspiring psychologist, during a recent workout in Randolph. “A lot of the techniques — training and competition — I can apply to whatever I do.”
Marciano’s parents are a little more circumspect. In an upstairs office, they keep a shadow box filled with ribbons and articles, highlighted by a July 2012 Swimming World Magazine profile with a smiling Marciano, braces and all. A 45-gallon plastic bin overflows with trophies and national age-group certificates.
“He was once the fastest in the world, at 10 and under, in the 50-meter backstroke,” his mom, Patricia, wistfully recalled.
On a recent damp day in the Shawangunks, Marciano joined two climbing friends, Will Stollsteimer, 23, and Mike Stollsteimer, 17, brothers from Newtown, Pa.
The trio applied chalk to the crevices, for better friction, and dissected the degree of difficulty of their favorite boulders (a V4 here, a V9 there). Marciano was excited for the physical test and the spiritual release that would come with it. At Gill Egg, he used his maize and blue Michigan sweatpants, and every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame, to dry the damp spots on the rocks.
“I thought it’d be less wet,” he said.