May 26, 2008
When Maya DiRado first got in the pool, she just wanted to dance.
But the 6-year-old with a background in ballet didn’t stick with synchronized swimming for long. She found that she didn’t like her instructor. But she also didn’t want to leave the water.
Nine years later, DiRado’s beginnings in the pool are stamped all over her stroke. A phenom who is fascinated by the subtle movements of her sport, DiRado can give the 200 individual medley the elegance of a recital.
DiRado, a sophomore at Maria Carrillo High, enters this weekend’s North Coast Championships in Concord with a laundry list of credentials that suggest she could become the best swimmer in Redwood Empire history.
DiRado, who turned 15 last month, holds Empire records in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle and has qualified for this summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials in three events.
But qualifying for the Trials doesn’t even count as her ultimate highlight. The pinnacle of her still-developing career arrived in January when she won the 400 IM at the Victorian State Championships in Melbourne, Australia, while competing as a member of the U.S. Junior National team.
DiRado also finished second in the 200 IM in Melbourne. Impressive? She beat former Olympians Liesel Jones and Shayne Reese of Australia in the process. Jones, 22, has world records in the 100- and 200-meter breastroke. DiRado, on the other hand, has braces.
DiRado also has a competitive streak. But it didn’t fully develop until she had learned some of swimming’s fundamentals.
“At first she wasn’t interested in the competitive aspect,ý said her dad, Ruben. “For her it was all about learning the motions — she was interested in the choreography of swimming. She got the hang of it and then she found out that she was fast.ý
Santa Rosa Neptunes coach Dan Greaves, who has mentored DiRado for the past six years, marvels at DiRado’s ability to process information and apply it to her stroke. Her comprehension isn’t surprising — she skipped second grade, has a 4.5 GPA and has received recruiting interest from schools such as UCLA and Harvard.
But DiRado, whose parents both graduated from Stanford, also has plenty of skills to go with her smarts.
“She finds a pace and can do repeat after repeat forever,ý said Greaves. “Most people get tired, but Maya just keeps swimming. I don’t know if she’s like Lance Armstrong as far as her anaereobic threshold she can maintain, but she has something like that.ý
DiRado has already rubbed shoulders with legends, swimming in the same heat with former world-record holder Katie Hoff and going through warm-ups with Michael Phelps at the Santa Clara International Grand Prix.
Like many Neptunes, she uses high school meets mainly as an extension of her training. But she concedes that the NCS Championships are unique.
As a freshman, DiRado finished second at NCS in the 200 IM in 2:01.42. It’s a mark within hailing distance of the NCS record of 1:58.45 held by Natalie Coughlin, a five-time Olympic medalist.
Former Montgomery star and current Cal freshman Amanda Sims is the only Empire swimmer, male or female, to hold an NCS swimming record.
“It would be crazy,ý DiRado said. “It’s not something I think about every day. But I know it’s out there.ý
The Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., from June 29-July 6 are also in DiRado’s future. She will be joined at the Trials by Sims and Santa Rosa sophomore Molly Hannis, one of her best friends.
Hannis, 16, and DiRado have been in the same training group for the past nine years and they both qualified for the Trials at last year’s USA Swimming Spring Championships in East Meadow, N.Y.
Now they might race to see who could be first to break an NCS record. Hannis’ top time in the 100 breastroke (1:03.70), second all-time in the Empire, is less than two seconds off the NCS standard.
Given DiRado’s already exhaustive resume, however, Greaves believes a few memorable performances at the NCS Championships could establish her as the best in Empire history.
“If she starts knocking off some NCS records, she could carry that tag,ý Greaves said. “That seems to be the standard Amanda set. Maya has the potential to be the best ever.ý
You can reach staff writer Eric Branch at 521-5268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria Carrillo sophomore Maya DiRado turned 15 in April, but her swimming resume is already quite extensive. A look at some highlights:
Has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200 individual medley, 400 IM and 200-yard butterfly.
Has the fifth-fastest American time ever in the 13-14 age group in the 200-meter IM.
She is sixth in the 400 IM, 16th in the 200 fly and 29th in the 200 backstroke.
Holds Empire records in the 200 freestyle and 500 free.
She is second in the 200 IM.
Holds six Pacific Swimming age-group records.