This year’s Olympic Trials have special meaning for Maya DiRado for a couple of reasons.
For one, she’s enjoying the best swimming times and results of her career – putting her in the pole position to earn a spot on her first Olympic Team.
Secondly, despite having just celebrated her 23rd birthday a couple of months ago, the Stanford graduate and NCAA Champion is calling it a swimming career regardless of what happens in Omaha.
Recently married to fellow former Cardinal swimmer Rob Andrews, DiRado is ready to embark upon the next phase of her life – and competitive swimming isn’t part of that.
“I will have a hard stop date after this summer; I will be moving to Atlanta to start as a business analyst for McKinsey, a management consulting firm,” she said. “No more training for me, so I’m really enjoying my last run through everything.
“I never wanted to make swimming my career, so the switch is going to be refreshing. I’ll get to work my brain out a little more.”
In between training and competing full-time, DiRado said marrying her college sweetheart last September has been nothing but positive for her outlook – although it does make Olympic Training Center (OTC) visits more miserable for her because of the distance between them.
“Rob is, well, pretty fantastic,” DiRado said. “We got married on September 19th of last year and it really was the best day of my life.
“He swam at Stanford as well, but we actually met in 2007 when we were both on the Junior National Team together. We started dating my sophomore year at Stanford, and now he works up in San Francisco as a software engineer.”
And while she said she’s been training strong and consistently since taking a two-week break to relax and get married after World Championships (she won silver in the 400 individual medley) last summer in Kazan, Russia, she’s had her best, most consistent year of training – especially the past 9 months – and is excited to see the results in a few weeks in Omaha.
“I don’t think you need to reinvent the wheel just because it’s an Olympic year, but it certainly brings an extra level of excitement and motivation to training every day which has been helpful,” she said.
DiRado admits despite all of her hard work to strengthen the four strokes involved with her events, being an Olympian was never high on her list of goals.
Growing up as a competitive swimmer, she was a big fan but she never thought it was something she’d participate in nor was it her end goal in the sport.
That’s all changed now with the prospect of making this year’s team seemingly so close to coming true.
“Swimming in college and making Olympic Trials were things I wanted to do,” she said. “For this to now be a possibility right in front of me is so exciting and surreal. It speaks to all the amazing people who have been a part of my swimming career and also how far hard work and joy can take you.”
Four years ago at her second Olympic Trials in Omaha, DiRado (whose real name is Madeline but her older sister, Sarah, couldn’t pronounce Madeline and called her Maya) came about as close as she could to stamping her passport to London. She finished fourth in both the 200 and 400 IM events.
That experience revealed a few things to her – namely that she wasn’t ready to make the Olympic team but that she was motivated and excited enough by the opportunity that she realized she wanted it more than she thought.
“My experience (in 2012) was mixed,” she said. “It was great to get the experience of making two finals, but in all honesty, I wasn’t that close to making the team. I’ve prepared so much better this time, which is calming because I know that no matter what happens, I’ve done everything in my power to put myself in a good spot.
“(Four years earlier) in 2008 as a 15 year old, I was just so awestruck and amazed by the event. I didn’t make a second swim, but it was the biggest and most exciting meet I had ever participated in.”
With this being her final year of competition, in addition to her signature IM events, DiRado has mixed up her swims at various meets.
For her, it was really more about having fun, and with her college career behind her, she decided it was the perfect time to swim different events when she felt like it.
“Doing different events keeps things interesting, and the great part of being an IMer is that basically all events are relevant to my main events,” she said. “Getting better at the 200 free helps my closing speed in the 200 IM.”
With the start of Trials just a couple weeks away, DiRado said she will spend that time relaxing and fine tuning “all the little details.”
For her, the hard work is done. Now comes the fun part.
And with her starting her post-swimming life this fall, DiRado said she is excited to make lots of memories at Trials – and hopefully the Olympics – to last her indefinitely.
She said despite it being her last chance to make the Big Dance of her sport, she doesn’t feel any extra pressure to succeed.
For her, this entire year has been a reminder that life goes on with and without swimming.
“I can just go out there and give it my best,” she said. “I am entirely sure this is my last go-round. I’ve had a good run, and I’m very excited for the next chapter. I fully appreciate how fantastic my schedule and life are right now, but the new challenge sounds exciting in its own way.
“I want to thank all the amazing people at USA Swimming whom I’ve known for about 9 years now – Jack Roach, Russell Mark, Katie Arnold and more. They’ve made me a better swimmer and helped me grow up and became very dear friends along the way.”