By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Back in the pool following her fastest meet ever, Maya DiRado is digging for more speed in the biggest races of her life.
Making the USA Swimming National Team is DiRado’s reward for years of hard work in and out of the water. Yet the Stanford senior out of Maria Carrillo isn’t satisfied with competing in the world championships.
“You definitely want to go there and represent the U.S. really well,” DiRado said. “But I don’t feel any pressure, because I made the team, that’s the hard part.”
Swimming three events at the FINA World Championships, in Barcelona, Spain, is a challenge DiRado responded to with more of the training that has her swimming with the world’s best.
DiRado is following the U.S. Nationals and World Championship Trials in Indianapolis that concluded Saturday with two weeks of intensive training at Stanford.
“It doesn’t feel good. You just have to make sure you’re in shape,” she said.
Swimming all four strokes demands focused workouts. DiRado wants to bottle the butterfly she unleashed at nationals and continue improving a breaststroke that was the difference in winning a U.S. medley title.
Less rigorous workouts follow with the national team in Spain, as swimmers taper to be well rested for the world championships.
“Hopefully training with the team will help me get faster,” DiRado said. “I’m not reinventing the wheel, as my coach says, I just do what’s been working already.”
So far so good in what has become a remarkable season.
Adding a half dozen All-American honors — DiRado has 15 in all — at the NCAA championships was a sign of success to come. DiRado was even faster at the Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine, a final tune up for the national championships and world qualifiers.
Going into Indianapolis with nothing-to-lose confidence, DiRado on the meet’s first day finished a stunning second in the 200 butterfly. DiRado did not figure to even reach the championship final.
Only recently did DiRado focus on the fly again outside of swimming the stroke in the medley. Still, she bettered her personal best by more than 5 seconds in clearing the world qualifying standard.
“I’ve been training really well, but I don’t know where that time comes from,” DiRado said.
A fifth in the 200 freestyle the second day qualified DiRado for another world championships event, in the 4×200 free relay.
Two spots on the U.S. team were hers and DiRado still had her best event to come. Relaxed and ready on day three, DiRado knocked more than 3 seconds off her personal best in the 400- meter individual medley, holding off Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel for the title.
The difference was turning the tide on a seemingly endless labor with the breaststroke. DiRado has been riding higher in the water more consistently, shaving precious time off already fast marks.
“I’ve been working on it for so long. It’s going really well now,” she said.
Staying strong for the world championships is as much mental as physical. Not one to become high-strung in major meets, DiRado has enough international experience to stay focused on swimming her best.
A three-time USA Swimming National Junior Team member, DiRado also was a national team member at the 2011 World University Games.
“It’s nice to be on the big team finally,” DiRado said.
DiRado’s most recent international meet was the short course world championships in December. She didn’t acclimate well as in past overseas competitions, struggling to string together enough hours of sleep. So she has a plan to adjust sooner to the nine-hour time difference between California and Barcelona.
What she doesn’t worry about is looking good. USA Swimming provides great gear, from shorts and T-shirts to sweatshirts, jackets and other garb. The box should arrive next week.
“That’s always the cool part,” DiRado said.
On her trip to Barcelona, where DiRado swam for the national junior team three years ago, she also will bring along notes for a Stanford summer class. DiRado has a course for her major in science-engineering-finance and must take a midterm test on the road.
Juggling swimming and school has never slowed the former All-Empire Athlete of the Year and Academic All Pac 12 Conference selection.
Swimming on the big stage in Spain adds to DiRado’s memorable summer. DiRado would love to come with a medal.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “These big meets definitely bring out the best. People do crazy things wearing the flag on their cap.”