The Most

Woman in the World


Maya DiRado

Olympic gold medalist, management consultant,
avid reader of Winston Churchill biographies

The Most

Woman in the World

Madeline “Maya” DiRado grew up in San Jose, California, where she emerged as one of the country’s most talented swimmers. She swam at Stanford, where she won NCAA titles in two events and earned a degree in management science and engineering. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Maya won four medals (including two golds). Now 23, she is embarking on her next career as a management consultant. This is her story.

On Going For It: I started as a synchronized swimmer when I was five, and then switched to a normal swim team when I was six. I was an intense young child, so I took it seriously and bossed all the older kids around. My goal was to swim at Stanford, my dream school, so that’s what I worked towards.

I expected my swimming career to end when I graduated from college in 2014, and I had to be convinced to try for the Olympics. I wanted to get a job; I was nervous that I’d spend two more years training, and then go to trials and not make the team. I was scared of wasting my time, and of feeling embarrassed if I didn’t succeed. But my parents and my coach and my now-husband said, “We love you no matter what, but it would be really stupid if you didn’t go for it.” McKinsey had already offered me a position, and they let me defer my start date. So I committed myself to training, knowing that I had a job waiting at the end of the process. It was very freeing to know that I’d be able to devote everything to swimming for a time, and then move on.

On “Retiring” at 23: My final Olympic event was the 200 backstroke, and I won the gold medal, which was totally unexpected. It was an outrageous way to end a career. When I was up on the podium, singing the national anthem, it was bittersweet. I totally see why some people might hang on for another four years. But I realized, I can’t keep swimming just for that momentary feeling. You have to enjoy the grind of getting up every day to train, and I had already given everything I had to get to Rio. I’m going to miss a lot of things about swimming, but I’d rather look back and miss it, rather than feel like I beat the dead horse and hung on too long.

On Going with the Flow: There are a lot of uncontrollables at the Olympics. In the village, the beds are tiny and incredibly uncomfortable. It can be loud. You never know what food the dining hall will have on the day of your race. You don’t know if your bus will show up on time. You have to take charge of some things, but also be flexible and surrender to others. It’s an interesting balance when you’re at the most important sporting event of your life.

By the end of the meet, I was sleeping three or four hours a night and eating pizza every day. We hadn’t had fresh vegetables in a week, but we were still performing at absolute peak. Meanwhile, the U.S. men’s basketball team was staying on a luxury cruise ship, and we were like, “Well, we missed our bus. I guess we’ll get the next one and just adjust our warm-up.”

There was one race where I was rushing to get ready, and I ripped my suit. I had to waddle back to the team area in my towel to get a new one. That was the 200 individual medley—I ended up getting bronze.

There are a lot of uncontrollables at the Olympics. You have to take charge of some things, and also be flexible and surrender to others. It’s an interesting balance when you’re at the most important sporting event of your life.

On Being Multi-dimensional: I’ve always thought of swimming as something I do, but it doesn’t define me as a person. Having other interests outside of the pool has helped me as an athlete—it takes some of the pressure off. I love doing long, intense cooking projects, like making lasagna from scratch with homemade noodles; I love reading biographies about Winston Churchill; and I loved school. The hardest part of training for the Olympics after college was just feeling my brain atrophy. It freaked me out to think, “Was graduation the peak of my knowledge?”

I’m excited to start from the bottom again at McKinsey. It’s going to be like drinking from a firehose, but I’m ready. And the mental aspect of my swimming career has prepared me: the technique, the planning, the ability to control your nerves and get through both the lows—the grind of showing up to practice every day—and the highs, where there’s so much pressure. It’s a confidence boost to know that I’ve been through all that.

On Style: My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ, and I’ve read about how we tend to dress and thought, “Oh, yes. I totally identify with that.” My style is basic, and built around what’s useful and makes sense. I’m not very trendy or frilly. My closet is full of blues, grays, blacks, and neutrals. I gravitate towards simple silhouettes that are comfortable and flattering. Nothing super crazy. My goal for my work wardrobe is to look good, but not to distract from what I’m trying to say. I think your outfit should enhance your voice, but not overpower it.

unnamed

On Keeping Her Cool: Sometimes when I’m very overwhelmed or tired, I just cry for no good reason. My sister and I call it “the gift of tears.” Getting the emotions out is a release, and it helps me stay steady and level-headed. I’ve learned that I can go through a lot of different scenarios and crazy times and just be cool with it. You get to experience a lot more of the world if you learn to roll with the punches.

On Learning and Leading: My family has always said, “Never stop learning.” My life has gotten much bigger after the Olympics—I’ve traveled and discovered new intellectual interests. I do think of myself as a leader. My favorite leaders are the people who get everybody on the same page and bring out each person’s gifts. Everyone has the potential for great work when you feel like what you’re doing matters. Right now, my attitude is: What’s next? What else can I do? What else can I learn?

I loved school. The hardest part of training for the Olympics after college was just feeling my brain atrophy. It freaked me out to think, ‘Was graduation the peak of my knowledge?’


Share this post. We dare you.


Want to meet other Remarkable Women?

Read More

Questions about styling or sizing? Chat with one of our stylists.