Hello swimming enthusiasts!
With Simone Manuel’s victory in the 100 meter freestyle, Lilly King’s gold-medal 100 meter breaststroke, Maya DiRado’s 200 meter backstroke win, and, of course, Katie Ledecky’s sweep of the 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle, the Rio Olympics were a great success for the female swimmers of the USA!
Today, I am highlighting a swimmer whose final (and first Olympic!) competition was the recent Games in Rio: the talented and versatile Maya DiRado. After seventeen years of competitive swimming, DiRado made an announcement at the beginning of August that she would retire after the Games; she and her husband have bought a house in Atlanta and DiRado will soon begin working with Global Management Consulting Company, McKinsey and Company.
So, how did it all start? Maya DiRado was born on April 5, 1993, in San Francisco. Surprisingly, Maya is not actually her real name. Her full name is Madeline Jane DiRado, but her older sister could not pronounce Madeline and the name “Maya” stuck. DiRado began swimming at the young age of six for the Santa Rosa Neptunes. She recalls falling in love with her first team suit and wanting to wear it to bed.
Academically, DiRado was always ahead. She was mature beyond her years and skipped second grade because she was so advanced compared to her classmates. At fifteen, she achieved a perfect score on the Math SAT. However, as a swimmer, DiRado is often considered a late bloomer. While the sport has been filled with young female swimmers like Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin, who were gold medalists as high schoolers, DiRado qualified for the Olympics for the first time this year, at the age of twenty-three. At the 2012 Olympic Trials, she finished in fourth for both the 200 and 400 meter IMs, missing the chance to compete in the Olympics by two places.
At this point in her career, DiRado was content with her current accomplishments and did not really see herself as ever being an Olympian. However, this is when her college coach at Stanford, Greg Meehan, stepped in and encouraged her to take her swimming to the next level. And she did. DiRado continued swimming after college, delayed starting a job, and trained intensely for the most difficult event in the sport: the 400 IM.
By 2016, after placing high in multiple World and Pan-Pacific Championships, Maya DiRado was in a position to blow away the competition at Olympic Trials and make the Olympic Team. In 2015, she had won a silver medal in the 400 IM, the fastest American time since Elizabeth Beisel’s race in the 2012 Olympics. At Olympic Trials in Omaha, DiRado brought her A game, finishing three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher in the 400 meter IM, leading the entire 200 meter IM race, and out-touching Missy Franklin in the 200 meter backstroke. She was heading into Rio as the top seed in both IM events, and the second seed in the 200 meter backstroke.
When the week of Olympic swimming finally came, Maya DiRado finished her career with a bang. She won the gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke by a narrow .06-second margin, the silver medal in the 400 meter IM, and the bronze medal in the 200 meter IM, all lifetime bests. In addition, she helped Team USA swim to a first-place finish in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay, as the third leg. I admire DiRado for her perseverance in the sport and late rise to success. She will surely be missed this year at major swimming competitions!