Madeline ‘Maya’ DiRado made her Olympic debut on Saturday, winning silver in the 400m individual medley. The 23-year-old also won the bronze in the 200m individual medley. DiRado also won a gold medal as a member of the Women’s 4x200m relay team. On Friday, she swam in the Women’s 200m backstroke and won gold. Amazingly, she medalled in all four of her races in her one and only Olympics.
The swimmer is considered a “late bloomer” in a sport where many athletes make their Olympic debuts in their teens. In fact, the San Francisco native plans on retiring after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Here’s a look at her life and career.
1. DiRado has Been Swimming Competitively Since She Was 6 Years Old, but Has Never Been in a Rush
DiRado initially picked up synchronized swimming, but when she was just 6 years old, she began focusing on swimming competitively. However, she has never been one to rush her swimming career. When it comes to academics, it’s another story though. She skipped second grade, went to high school at 13 and entered Stanford at 17. She even got married to Rob Andrews at 22.
But her swimming career has moved at a much slower rate. She did attend trials for the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, but missed the cut. She made the U.S. world championships team in 2013 and the Pac-Pacific team in 2014. She made the world team in 2015 and picked up a silver medal in the 400 IM.
“In age-group swimming there’s always some kid who is extremely fast, and everyone would go, ‘Ooooh, she’s really fast.’ She was never that kid. She was the kid who would lose to that kid,” her father, Ruben, told Yahoo Sports.
“I think she was comfortable where she was and didn’t really see herself as an Olympian, didn’t really see herself ever getting to that level,” her Stanford coach, Greg Meehan, told Yahoo. “She just thought, ‘OK, I’m really good, but I’m just going to be in this spot.’”
2. When She’s Not Swimming, She Loves Hiking & Goes to Yosemite Once a Year
Even when DiRado isn’t in the pool, she loves challenging herself. In a NBC sports interview, DiRado said that her family goes to Yosemite once a year and loves to hike.
“I enjoy hiking – we go up to Yosemite about once a year. I hiked Half Dome last summer and it was incredible and also incredibly hard,” she said.
DiRado also said that she loves cooking, yoga, pilates and reading about World War II.
“Yoga and pilates are favorite dryland activities,” she told NBC Sports. “Yoga helps loosen up all our tight spots and I think the movements and posture in pilates has great carryover into swimming technique. Bikram yoga is the most ‘aaahhhhh’ inducing activity I’ve found. I feel so loose and mellow after that.”
3. DiRado Plans on Retiring, No Matter What Happens at the Olympics
Even though DiRado is doing better than she has ever done in her career, she plans on retiring after the Olympics, even if she loses. She told The Washington Post that she thinks her decision to walk away from the sport now is part of the reason why she’s doing so well. She wants to go out on a high note.
“It’s so much easier to work hard every day and push myself and be excited about all the little things that make swimming great but are kind of hard to get excited about when you’re looking at this like, ‘Oh, I have so many more years ahead of me doing this,'” she told the Post.
Her father told the Post that when people would ask her about swimming in college, she would say that she didn’t feel the reason to do it forever.
“She said, ‘Maybe by the time I get to college, I’ll want to do something else,’” her father said. “And I thought to myself: What a perfect answer. ‘I like it now. I’m enjoying it. But there’s no reason I have to keep doing this.’”
4. DiRado Already Has Her Post-Swimming Job – a Position at McKinsey & Company, Where Chelsea Clinton Once Worked
After swimming, DiRado looks forward to putting her Stanford degree in management science and engineering to good use. She landed a job at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm where Chelsea Clinton once worked. She will have to move to Atlanta for the job.
“My fellow class of BAs that are coming in are really supportive and wished me good luck,” she told the Associated Press.
“No more training for me, so I’m really enjoying my last run through everything,” she told SwimSwam.com. “I never wanted to make swimming my career, so the switch is going to be refreshing. I’ll get to work my brain out a little more.”
DiRado’s husband, Rob Andrews, also walked away from swimming. He was an three-time NCAA All-American. Andrews, who attended Stanford as well, now works as software engineer.
5. She Beat Elizabeth Biesel by 3 Seconds at the Omaha Olympics Trials
At the Olympic trials in Omaha in June, DiRado swam the 400m IM with a time of 4:33.73. That was three seconds ahead of Elizabeth Bisel, who won silver in the event at the London Games and will be competing in her third Olympics in Rio.
She also won the 200m IM, but it was much closer. She came in at 2:10.09, just ahead of Melanie Margalis’ 2:10.41 finish.
In the 200m Backstroke, she topped Missy Franklin, finishing 2:06.90. Franklin, who won the gold in London in the event, had a time of 2:07.89.
“Maya has a great natural feel for the water,” Meehan told TeamUSA.org. “Most elite swimmers do, but they don’t always have this skill in multiple strokes.”