Maya DiRado will make first Olympics her last

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Most people, when achieving the ultimate success at a particular skill, want more and more and more. They don’t even consider stopping.

Not Maya DiRado.

The 23-year-old Santa Rosa swimmer will compete in her first Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro and then promptly hang up her Speedo.

Yes, she’s retiring — at the peak of her success, after years of record-setting performances with the Santa Rosa Neptunes, Maria Carrillo High School and Stanford University.

And possibly a medal or two. Or three.

DiRado will represent her country in three events: the 400-meter individual medley, the 200 IM and the 200 backstroke.

Then, just a few weeks after the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics subside, she will leave it behind and enter the real world. She has a job lined up at McKinsey & Co., an elite management consulting firm.

Even though swimmers can compete successfully into their late 20s and beyond — through several Olympic cycles — DiRado and her husband, Rob Andrews, whom she met on the Stanford swim team, will put competitive swimming in a box on the mantle.

On Sept. 9, DiRado embarks on her career as a business analyst in Atlanta, a job she was offered more than a year ago, before the Olympics were guaranteed. She follows in the footsteps of her father, Ruben, who is also a business analyst; her mother, Marit, is a nurse.

Having made the decision that this will be her one and only Olympics, DiRado said she will be able to rest easy in Brazil and just soak in the atmosphere, not get too wrapped up in the intensity of it.

“I think it’s really freeing,” DiRado, who graduated from Carrillo in 2010, told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s not like I have to win medals to be able to make a career out of it and keep going and get sponsorships.”

From early on in her swimming life, DiRado brought a centered mentality. She started in the pool at age 5, on a synchronized swim team. But she said she “enjoyed the process of swimming,” so she began swimming competitively.

“It’s very peaceful, very calming to me,” she said.

One of her early mentors, Dan Greaves of the Neptunes swim club, described DiRado as grounded, much like her parents.

That is the mentality of the club, too, he said.

“With all of our athletes, we just try to stress that this is just a sport we try to do,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is living and dying with it, including Maya. I don’t think we taught her how to do it. I think she is wired that way and so are we.”

Jill McCormick, the swim coach at Santa Rosa Junior College and another DiRado mentor, said Maya has the rare ability to remain calm during the disappointments as well as the successes.

“When you make a commitment, it’s hard not to make it feel more important than it is, where it becomes your sole focus, where your self-worth is so wrapped up in your performance. It’s natural, which is why most people do it,” she said.

“But with Maya, when things go wrong, she keeps that in perspective. She uses it to refocus and go back and work harder.”

On the other hand, when things go exceptionally well, like making the Olympics in three events, DiRado keeps that in perspective too, McCormick said.

“That’s the piece of the puzzle most athletes don’t have,” McCormick said. “It doesn’t define her. She’s just grounded and balanced, and people can learn from that.”

In a talk to local swimmers earlier this year, DiRado conveyed that so well that several swimmers later literally wrote her advice on their ankles: IOS, it’s only swimming, as a reminder that the world does not rise or fall on your performance today.

Still DiRado is in rarefied air. As a three-event qualifier, she joins swimming greats Michael Phelps and teenager Katie Ledecky as the elite Americans in Rio.

Her three-lane road to Rio was paved at the trials in Omaha last month.

In the 400 IM, she was in second place after the butterfly leg and then took the lead in backstroke, never looking back. She finished with a time of 4:33.73, three seconds ahead of second-place finisher Elizabeth Beisel.

She won her second event, the 200M IM, leading from start to finish, winning with a time of 2:09.54.

Three days later, she added a third event, winning the 200M backstroke, finishing just ahead of Missy Franklin.

McCormick, who also helped train DiRado’s mother at the JC and is a longtime family friend, is going to Rio with the family. She knows they won’t have much contact with her, since athletes stay in the Olympic Village and are under strict security.

At the trials, DiRado’s value to the country became clear. After she qualified for her second event, she was given a military escort to and from the swim complex. DiRado kept that in perspective, too, McCormick said.

“She texted her mom ‘well this is different,’” McCormick said.

She will race the 400-meter individual medley on Aug. 6, the 200 IM on Aug. 8 and the 200 backstroke on Aug. 11.

No matter how DiRado does in her three events, Greaves has no doubt she will remain the steady, confident young woman he’s known since she was in elementary school. She’s not one of those elite athletes who gives up everything to chase the Olympic dream, who misses out on childhood benchmarks to train.

“As great as she’s always been, I don’t know that she’s ever said, ‘the only thing I do is swim.’ She’s gaining from it, not sacrificing for it,” Greaves said.

DiRado is living a charmed life, he said, and she appreciates that.

“She gets the man of her dreams, marries at a young age. Life is still going to be good no matter what,” he said. “She’s really good at living in the moment and that’s a pretty powerful thing to do with all this stress.”

While outsiders likely will say that winning a medal is the goal at the Olympics, Greaves doubts that’s DiRado’s objective.

“I don’t think she’s going into it saying she’s got to make the top three,” he said. “She’s saying ‘I need to do my strokes this way. I want to feel this way in the end, that I gave it my all, that I didn’t let my negative thoughts get going.’

“And if all of that goes well, then there’s the possibility that she could be getting a medal.”

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