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Olympic Commentary: Maya DiRado’s Backstory

by Will Jackson


Newly minted U.S. Swimming Gold Medalist Maya DiRado has a personal story that’s full of PCA lessons. DiRado began swimming in a kids’ program as a 6-year old. Her father reminisced on Yahoo! Sports about his daughter’s humble beginnings: “In age-group swimming there’s always some kid who is extremely fast, and everyone would go, ‘Oooh, she’s really fast.’ She [Maya] was never that kid. She was the kind who would lose to that kid.”

But Maya loved swimming and kept at it. You can bet that her supportive parents and some wise coaches around Santa Rosa, CA, filled a lot of emotional tanks with positive encouragement to nourish a little girl who just kept having fun, working hard, and improving.

Over time, Maya became an outstanding swimmer as well as a fine student. She enrolled at Stanford as a 17-year-old freshman and swam competitively for the Cardinal before graduating in 2014. She even won a gold medal in the 200-meter Individual Medley at the 2014 Pan Am Games. But there were disappointing bumps along the way: she missed the cut to make the U.S. Olympic team in both 2008 and 2012 (once on a disqualification for a faulty turn). She felt she was ready to put aside those tough practice hours in the water and move on with her professional corporate career.

A funny thing happened along the way. During the college break of summer 2013, Maya returned to her local swim club back home to help with the young kids who were just beginning to swim and enter age-group competition. She saw the innocent fun that the youngsters were having in the pool; she shared the joy they felt in their practices and their personal improvements. Most of all she was reminded of her own childhood delight in swimming and was so refreshed in her focus that she wanted to continue to participate in that special arena.

Fast-forward to the present Olympiad, where DiRado has worn a path to the Rio medal stand. She’s earned Gold (200-meter backstroke and 4x200-meter freestyle relay); a Silver (400-meter individual medley); and a Bronze (200-meter individual medley). Her passion for the sport, for her teammates and for the pure exhilaration of competition showed up in every TV shot of her on the pool deck.

The gist of the PCA message in DiRado’s story: Keep it fun for youngsters. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Cherish the hard journey. Exult in the moment. Share your joy with those you love and who love you.

Will Jackson is a PCA Trainer based in Atlanta. Before retirement, he served as head football coach and Athletic Director at Dunwoody High School (near Atlanta) and at Wesleyan School in Norcross. In retirement, he still assistant coaches varsity football at Wesleyan. For more resources from Will, click here.

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