Stanford swimmer Maya DiRado reflects on career, contemplates future

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – Stanford swimmer Maya DiRado is a FINA world champion, three-time NCAA runner-up and Pac-12 champion several times over, her most recent conference titles coming Thursday and Friday in the 200 individual medley and 400 individual medley, respectively, at the 2014 Pac-12 Women’s Swimming Championships.

[Related: 2014 Pac-12 Women's Swimming Championships results, photos, tweets and more]

She was a hair away from making the U.S. Olympic team in 2012, finishing fourth at the trials in two events. She's only gotten faster since then, so you’d assume she’s locked in to pursue the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, right? As a graduating senior with a 3.6 GPA in management science and engineering (uh, what), not necessarily, she says. Girl’s got options.

Ahead of her 400 IM victory Friday at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center, DiRado and I looked back at her past and how it'll inform her future.

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Sarah Kezele: You just missed making the Olympic team twice at the 2012 trials. Was that deflating? Encouraging?

Maya DiRado: It was a weird experience. Going in, I wasn’t really a favorite to make the team and it didn’t really come together the right way at that time, so I wasn’t shocked by it. Two fourth places looks a lot more heartbreaking than it was. But then with [head coach] Greg [Meehan] coming in at Stanford and starting fresh, it’s exciting to see where it will take us.

SK: Really, no heartbreak?

MD: Yeah, it’s odd. There were no tears. I didn’t go any of my best times, which was frustrating, so I wish I had swum better. I was close, but it wasn’t like it was snatched away from me – I don’t think I had put myself in the place to go out and get it, so you can’t be upset about that.

SK: It’s surprising to me that an athlete in your position has to think about whether you’ll pursue another Olympics. What’s the hang-up?

MD: I’ve swum for 14, 15 years and I’ve loved it. Swimming for Stanford, going to the world championships, I feel like I’ve had a really great ride. If the Olympics are a part of it, that would be fantastic. If they’re not, I wouldn’t look back on my swimming career and see something missing. It’s more about making sure I still love it instead of being like, ‘The Olympics, I must go for it’ without reevaluating where I am. I’ll decide in August.

SK: What’s your plan once you graduate from Stanford?

MD: I’ll still probably practice with the team. I might have a little more flexibility when I get to do my dry land; maybe incorporate some yoga or running in there and just make that a little different since I’ve been doing the same thing for a while.

SK: Say August rolls around and you decide not to continue swimming. You'll start looking for a job? 

MD: Yeah. My focus is financial and decision engineering. A lot of people in my major go into consulting. Some people take the investment banking route – I don’t think I will go down that path – just a lot of financial analysis, I guess.

SK: NCAAs are coming up in a few weeks. Your fastest 200 IM time this year is better than what you swam in your third-place finish at nationals last year. What do you think about that?

MD: It’s exciting. I’m excited to just get to the meet and swim it. Because I think it’s going to be good.

SK: You had the nation’s top time (1:53.50) for most of this season. Do you consider yourself the favorite?

MD: Melanie Margalis from Georgia beat my time last week, so I’m not the top seed anymore; which, actually, I like that. I can just go in and do my race with fewer eyes on me.

SK: Is winning a title one of your goals for this year?

MD: Yeah, for sure. I’d love to win a title. It’s been eluding me for three years, so hopefully it all comes together.

SK: Do you have your eye on a specific event?

MD: Any event (laughs). I’m not picky.

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