When she was 7 years old, Maya DiRado interviewed her hero, Redwood Empire swimming phenom Amanda Sims, for a school project.
It makes no difference that Sims was just 12 years old herself. She’d already set national age-group swimming records and was on her way to becoming, the following year, the youngest swimmer in the country to compete in the U.S. Swimming Championships.
DiRado, now 23, followed in her youthful idol’s wake, breaking records throughout her career with Neptune Swimming, Maria Carrillo High School and Stanford University.
Now she’s hoping to inspire younger swimmers, just like Sims did for her 15 years ago.
DiRado, who has qualified for eight events at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, is visiting swimmers from the Neptunes and Santa Rosa Junior College this afternoon at the JC pool.
Call it repayment for some of the support she received in Santa Rosa years ago.
“I was super fortunate,” DiRado said, taking a break from practice last week at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I had a unique club swim career. It was a very relaxed, happy, fun club swimming experience. We trained hard and swam fast, but it was always, like, ‘It’s just swimming at the end of the day.’
“I’m so grateful for that perspective. It’s been so beneficial for my career.”
DiRado will compete in Omaha, Neb., starting June 26 in the qualifying heats for the 100-meter individual medley, 400 IM and 200 backstroke. She is ranked first in the nation in both her IMs and second in the country in the 200 back. She had qualifying times in five other events as well.
Thursday in Santa Rosa, the USA Swimming National Team member will conduct clinics for JC swimmers and Neptune athletes, a few of whom no doubt also have Olympic aspirations.
Four other current or former female Neptune swimmers have qualified for the trials: Rebecca Baxley, Piper Brockley, Allie Davis and Molly Hannis. Riley Scott of Petaluma, who swam with the Marin Pirates, also qualified.
The home visit will reunite DiRado with her original mentors, SRJC coach Jill McCormick and Neptune coach Dan Greaves.
Greaves realized when he first met DiRado, when she was 8, that she had an intensity different from most swimmers.
“When Maya was about 12, she was posting some times that were very impressive,” he said. “That was the first time that we all went, ‘Oh, this is not just a regional thing. She’s a national-caliber swimmer.’”
Though several world-class swimmers have come through the Neptunes, Greaves impresses on his athletes that it’s the swimming that counts, not the records or the medals.
“The chances of somebody from Santa Rosa making the Olympic team is slim to none,” he said. “Maya’s got a really good shot of making the team. And Molly has a decent shot. It’s hard for us to wrap our brains around it.”
Hannis, a 24-year-old 2010 Santa Rosa High School graduate, swam at the University of Tennessee. She qualified for the 100-meter breaststroke, in which she is ranked second nationally, and the 200 breast, where she is sixth in the country.
DiRado first started in the pool at age 5, not as a competitive swimmer, but with the Oak Park Swim & Racquet Club synchronized swim team.