Olympic hopeful Maya DiRado has words of wisdom for local swimmers

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Focus. Hard work. Dedication. Self-reflection. More focus. More hard work.

That’s Maya DiRado’s recipe for success.

DiRado, a 23-year-old Santa Rosa native, has qualified for eight swimming events at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., starting June 26.

On her Road to Rio, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, she stopped off in Santa Rosa Thursday to visit with her coaching mentors and share advice with young swimmers and other athletes.

Dozens of young Neptunes, the club team DiRado swam for about 10 years, and Santa Rosa Junior College athletes (along with some parents and older swimmers) sat in the stands at the JC pool, soaking up DiRado’s wisdom.

With a wide smile that comes easy, DiRado described how she went from novice swimmer to world class athlete.

Push yourself hard, she said, when preparing for the big day.

“Get it done every day in practice, so by the time you get to the meet, you don’t need to think about it,” she said.

Same thing with balancing school, sports, jobs, all of life’s responsibilities.

“It just comes down to being super on top of your school work, doing as much as you can ahead of time,” she said, using weekends to get a week or two ahead of deadlines.

She spoke of being confident in your abilities — but only after you’ve worked so hard you know your routine in and out, have studied so much you know you’re prepared for the test.

SRJC swimmer Lauren Talkington, who was a freshman at Maria Carrillo High School when DiRado was a senior, beamed after hearing DiRado speak.

“I heard everything I needed to hear,” she said. “I’ve struggled with confidence as a swimmer, being anxious on the blocks, questioning myself.”

A second-year swimmer for the Bear Cubs who competes in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, Talkington said she will take to heart DiRado’s advice to try to clear your mind when competing.

Her words transcended swimming, a sport she took up first as a synchronized swim team member as a 5-year-old. But DiRado said she quickly fell in love with the “process of swimming” and of perfecting her stroke movement, fine-tuning mechanics to improve her times, working on the mental aspect of competition.

That struck a nerve with members of the women’s Bear Cubs basketball team who were there.

“I related to a lot of it,” said Jenna Dunbar of San Luis Obispo. “Sometimes we compare ourselves to the other team.”

“She said, put blinders on, focus on the process,” added Brooke Santander, who played at Casa Grande.

“It’s hard to keep people out of your head sometimes,” DiRado said. “It just goes back to doing what you need to do in practice every day and once you get to the meet, it’s all you can do.”

DiRado just finished two weeks of training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She said that although she’s had some of the best times in her life in the past year, there are always “little tweaks” that can be made.

In late June, she will compete in Omaha 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.

The top two finishers in the individual races qualify for the Olympic teams.

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.

DiRado said she never stops reflecting on her skills and her effort. “Am I giving 100 percent?” she wonders.

Failures — in swimming, essentially everyone but the winner — can be a springboard to better things, though, she knows. Her coaches, Dan Greaves of the Neptunes and SRJC coach Jill McCormick, helped her learn that.

“There is no magic powder that gets sprinkled on you and you make the Olympic team. There’s not a secret password you have to know,” DiRado said. “You have the power to be the person who refuses to quit.”

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