By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Maya DiRado had an NCAA Championship to remember, claiming the 200 IM and 400 IM, and along with Felicia Lee sparking Stanford to a second place finish. The Stanford senior is hoping her swim career continues to take her to new heights, as she explains in 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How do you rate NCAAs?
Maya: Probably better than we expected. I swam well, we accomplished teams goals, I was able to get a title, so it was everything we wanted – and even better.
2. It being your last NCAAs, did that make it matter more?
Maya: Actually I tried to think about that as little as possible. I don’t think it would have helped me to think of this as, “The last NCAA final I’ll ever do, the last relay I will do,” because it would have taken away from what we were trying to do in the moment. It was just shutting the brain off and having fun for three days.
3. Why did you choose Stanford for college?
Maya: I took trips to Texas, Cal and Stanford. I had a really great time on all my trips. It came down to Stanford and Cal, and when I was at Stanford and with the girls, it felt so perfect. I was really comfortable, I loved the team dynamic, and just everyone’s excitement with being at school and on the team.
4. How about Stanford bringing Coach Greg Meehan on board?
Maya: It was a great hire. I was talking with our associate athletic director who is responsible for swimming and we were (laughing) congratulating ourselves on how well that turned out. We could not be happier with him.
5. What’s it like with Coach on a daily basis?
Maya: It’s so great to work with him every day. He’s funny, but that’s not his shtick – he doesn’t try to be funny. At the same time, he’s really intelligent. We’ve had a good back-and-forth about what my swimming needs are and how I am going to get there.
6. Didn’t you change up your training this year?
Maya: Yes, as much as I hated it (laughs), Coach put me in the distance group a lot more often. Every time I was like, “What am I doing here today?” Just do it. As summer went by and fall went by and I saw the improvement, I was like, “Ok, I am not going to ask anymore.” Just working with them I felt really strong in the water, and that showed at the end of the races.
7. You “fit” with Coach Meehan’s methods then?
Maya: That came down to just trusting him. He’s a great coach. He figured out that would be beneficial for me. Sure enough that turns out to work. It makes workouts easier when I know this is getting me to where I want to be.
8. Finishing second at NCAAs when other teams were supposed to be ahead of you, did that help end it on the right note?
Maya: Oh, absolutely. I don’t even know how to put it in to words, how perfect it was. I didn’t get a team championship in any of my four years here – but that second place felt so good. That was the most fun swim meet of my entire life.
9. So the meet met your expectations even though you didn’t “think about it” going in?
Maya: That meet was what you want in a college career. That’s what college swimming is all about. I feel really fortunate to be able to go out on that note. I never ever second guessed my decision to come to Stanford at all, and I think that it’s so nice to be able to get it done like that and move the program forward.
10. Outside the pool, how did Stanford “fit” you?
Maya: It was perfect. Not that my brain is that incredible like a lot of the people you see or hear about at Stanford, but it is great to feel like you are being molded and pushed into the best version of yourself. Athletically, I definitely have that here too – people to push me, to push myself. Academically, the challenge is always like that here. You won’t do well on every test here, so you just do your best. Every day here you get better in so many aspects.
11. How does that happen?
Maya: The people you meet encourage you to be the best version of yourself, intellectually, physically, emotionally, and even being a better friend, citizen and teammate. I love that holistic approach to growing up.
12. So you get back from a National Team or NCAAs and walk down the hall and see, what, a Nobel Prize winner and three scientists discovering things that change the world?
Maya: It is (laughs) amazing! You never ever get too big for your britches here. It’s really nice to be around people who are so happy for you, who congratulate you and then you think, “Wait, isn’t that the person who is saving the world?” So yes, it’s nice to be in awe of each other.
13. Why do the 200 IM and 400IM, aren’t those the hardest events?
Maya: When you do them you can’t think of them as the two hardest. I would take the 400 IM over the mile any day, so it’s not that bad. Greg prepared me as well as one could possibly be prepared, so at that point it’s just getting to the meet and doing your best.
14. So you felt great at the meet?
Maya: Oh yeah at the meet I felt great, it’s the weeks beforehand struggling through workouts and getting terrible times that were tough!
15. Yet you were ready?
Maya: Totally. I felt really well prepared. I was confident in my turns and under waters, which really benefitted me well. When your team is swimming that well – I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that – and you can’t undervalue the impact of that. I am not saying other teams were afraid of us or anything, but you knew our team had momentum, and it is nice swimming with that at your back
16. Were you aware you were racing Olympic medalists?
Maya: You can’t think about anyone else. You just get out there and race.
17. You, Beisel and the others in that final – what a field in the 400 IM, wasn’t it?
Maya: It’s cool that a bunch of those girls are seniors so we have been racing in that final for four years now. There is some sort of camaraderie that comes with the 400 IM. I have nothing but respect for all of them. A win’s a win. But it’s even nicer when you respect people as much as we do each other.
18. So did not winning in previous years motivate you?
Maya: Those are the swims you remember. The ones that you don’t remember are when you just shut off your brain because you are so well prepared you don’t have to think about it, you just touch the wall. I have really no recollection of the freestyle legs on those (IMs at NCAAs). What’s great about NCAAs is times really don’t matter. Honestly when I saw the “1” next to my name in the 200 IM, I didn’t see the time until I was on the awards podium, because it’s a team meet and it’s all about the points.
19. So now you are ready for summer?
Maya: Yes. I couldn’t be coming off a better meet for a springboard into the long course season. For the 200 IM, I never got to do it shaved and tapered last summer.
20. What did these last weeks and month teach you about yourself?
Maya: I think I had finally put all the pieces together and then done the work and knew every swim that I do helps me in the future. Finally, I just had everything come together mentally and physically and I had the teammates with me who were swimming out of their minds. That only helps you. We had a great coach who also helped get us all there. I’ve had a pretty steady trajectory with some plateaus, but I’ve still improved slow and study. You stay with it, but you can’t rush the process – success comes when you are ready for it.