OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Maya DiRado is peaking at just the right time to make her first – and last – Olympic swimming team.
The late bloomer is swimming some of the fastest times of her career heading into her third U.S. trials, and yet at 23, she’s poised to call it quits no matter what happens starting Sunday in Omaha.
DiRado’s goal is to finish off her career in Rio de Janeiro. But if she doesn’t qualify, she’ll be equally content hanging up her suit and cap to start the business analyst job waiting for her this fall in Atlanta.
“It’s so much easier to be excited about all of this and give it everything I have when I know that this is my last go-through,” she said Saturday. “I think it’s a sign that my preparation this year has been really good and that I’m ready to move on to something new.”
Before she does, DiRado kicks off the trials in the 400-meter individual medley on Sunday. Her competition includes Katie Ledecky, who emerged as a star four years ago at trials, when DiRado finished fourth in the event. She also finished fourth in the 200 IM that year. Only the top two make the Olympic team.
“You can’t get into too much how everybody else swims that race,” she said. “I just have to make sure all my strokes are firing and put together the best 400 that I can have.”
DiRado’s other events at trials are the 200 IM, 200 backstroke and possibly 200 freestyle.
Having started swimming at age 6, DiRado made national teams and incrementally improved, but it wasn’t until the last two years that she stamped herself as a medal contender. She won a silver in the 400 IM at last year’s world championships in Russia, and gold and silver in the IM events at the Pan Pacific championships in 2014.
“It’s always been a little bit better, a little bit better,” she said. “There have been some years where it hasn’t gotten better but it’s just like steps forward. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to keep improving; I know that doesn’t happen for everybody.”
Unlike so many swimmers, the trials aren’t the be-all and end-all for DiRado. She’s already lined up the next phase of her life with her husband and new job. The couple plans to travel to London and Paris at the end of August, allowing DiRado to ponder future meals in Paris, including how many croissants she can devour without consequence.
“Obviously, I’m super focused on the meet right now, and I’m really excited to swim,” she said, “but it’s just so nice to have that break and knowing that life goes on after this eight days, and hopefully the next month or so.”
DiRado graduated from Stanford with a degree in management science and engineering, and she admits that spending the last two years as a professional swimmer hasn’t exactly taxed her brain. The daily routine of practice, napping and watching TV bored her.
“After a couple months of that you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can feel my brain atrophying,’ and it was really hard,” she said. “At one point, I was like, ‘Well, if I keep swimming, was Stanford the most stressed my brain was ever going to get?’ And that totally freaked me out.”
To combat the lack of intellectual stimulation, DiRado read a lot and did coding exercises provided by husband Rob Andrews, a software engineer she met when both were swimming in college. She also did online training to prepare for her future job with McKinsey & Company, a high-powered management consulting firm that once employed Chelsea Clinton.
“My fellow class of BAs that are coming in are really supportive and wished me good luck,” she said.
DiRado plans to leave the San Francisco Bay area, where she’s spent her entire life, and move to Atlanta with her husband after their European vacation.
“That’s part of the reason I’ve been able to stay relatively calm and sane this year is just knowing that I have Rob,” she said. “I have that support and that love, and it’s going to be fine.”