RACING TO RIO [The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. :: ]
(Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 03--In restful moments away from the pool, Maya DiRado would leaf through product magazines featuring the world's top swimmers showing off the latest gear.
Soon she'll be seeing herself in those ads.
Now a USA Swimming star, DiRado will model swimwear, sign autographs and make public appearances for Speedo USA, the iconic brand banking on DiRado's charisma and Olympic possibilities.
Welcome to the big leagues.
"She's in an elite realm because of our sponsorship of her. There are very few professional swimmers out there," said Brian Basye, Speedo USA marketing director. "We sponsor the best athletes and really get behind them and promote them."
The sponsorship provides DiRado the financial security to focus full-time on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"It's amazing. I really feel fortunate," DiRado said. "I'm being paid to do what I want to do anyway, so this is the best of both possible worlds."
Closing in on her Olympic dream demands top performances beginning with the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships meet in Irvine, which begins Wednesday and runs through next Sunday. The best make the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships, this year's major international competition.
A year ago, DiRado made the U.S. team for the World Championships. Remaining a fixture on the national team roster is her aim.
"I want to keep making those teams," she said. "It's really exciting."
Marketing specialists at Speedo USA took notice when DiRado finished high in two Olympic Trials finals in 2012. Swimming well at the World Championships a year later, including a relay gold, put her on the short list of athletes worthy of endorsing.
"A lot of it has to do with her maturity level," Basye said. "When she started to get some of the success, she realized she could compete at this level. From that point, you can see that trajectory."
The deal was done following a Pac-12 Women's Swimmer of the Year campaign as a Stanford senior. At the NCAA meet, DiRado captured two individual titles and two relay championships.
"She is what we consider one of the best athletes in her events in the world," Basye said.
What she is worth, Speedo would not disclose. The money is better than what a typical Stanford graduate earns from a first job.
Add the stipend USA Swimming pays DiRado as a top-ranked world swimmer and she is in fine shape financially.
"It's more than enough to get by," she said. "It allows me to totally focus on swimming, which is really nice."
Among a dozen U.S. swimmers representing Speedo USA -- some 200 globally -- DiRado will promote the brand in advertisements and promotions, at swimming clinics and events. The campaign starts in California and the West with appearances scheduled around DiRado's training and meet schedule.
"Personality is a really big component," Basye said. "She's a perfectionist, but she also has a great time. She's fun to be around. She's somebody that fits really well in all that we want to do with our athletes."
Dressed for success
From photo shoots to public appearances and working with young swimmers, DiRado said she will have fun with the Speedo gig.
"It will be a blast," she said.
One benefit of representing Speedo is the gift bags DiRado receives several times a year. Some contain new gear for DiRado to sample and provide opinions. She also can ask for clothing from labels affiliated with Speedo USA parent company PVH Corp., including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and IZOD.
"I can wear a different suit every practice," DiRado said. "You swim well when you look good."
Staying with Speedo USA depends on DiRado's performance in the pool. "This will be a journey as we look toward 2016," Basye said. "A lot of this depends on her success."
From her three-year run as All-Empire Girls Swimmer of the Year to the top of the NCAA ranks, DiRado continues to achieve great things in the pool.
For the past three years, DiRado has competed internationally for Team USA. She has three top-10 all-time national marks.
"She's with some of the best in the world," Stanford women's swim coach Greg Meehan said. "The one thing about Maya that any coach would appreciate is she's just a very hard worker. She's just the best one in the pool."
The greatest leap for DiRado has been over the past year.
Winning a national championship -- in the 400 IM -- and swimming three events at worlds raised even DiRado's already high expectations.
"She set the bar really high," Meehan said. "She had a great 2013 and just really carried that momentum into this year."
Areas of improvement
For DiRado, the process matters more than results.
"You have to make sure you get something out of everything you're putting in. Medals are great, but you can't control what other people are doing," she said. "If you're doing it the right way you'll be successful."
Two areas of improvement helped her go from All-American to NCAA champion.
More distance training enabled her to finish races stronger. And a sharper breast stroke took her to the top of the podium in both the 200 IM and the 400 IM. DiRado also helped lead Stanford to titles in the 400 free relay and the 400 medley relay.
Even more satisfying for DiRado was helping lead Stanford to a second-place finish in the women's team competition.
"We outperformed. We definitely exceeded our team goals, and I met my goals," she said. "It was the perfect scenario."
Matching that highlight was going through graduation ceremonies. DiRado will complete a degree in management science in the fall quarter and wants to work in the financial field.
"I'm actually really excited to start working for real," she said.
Reaping the rewards
For now, she is having fun and enjoying the rewards of swimming.
Even with the Speedo USA deal, DiRado is just another competitor back in the Stanford pool, pushing to lower times and make the cut at nationals. Meehan is her coach and Stanford swimmers are her training partners.
"I like getting back and working hard and getting better," DiRado said.
At nationals, DiRado seeks to qualify for Team USA in all four of her events: 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 fly and 200 free.
Yet she feels little pressure.
"I'm generally not highly strung going into these events," DiRado said. "In college, I learned how to relax. Once you figure it out, the competition is quite nice."
Responding well when stakes are highest is a quality that makes DiRado a Speedo USA swimmer. As stewards of the Speedo brand, corporate marketing experts do not often miss identifying strong swimmers capable of Olympic greatness.
"Medals is where we want people to be," Basye said. "We're pretty good at this."
The Olympics are two years away. DiRado is taking her approach one meet at a time.
Still, she is feeling good about the road ahead.
"The Olympics was a goal. It definitely feels closer," she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.
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