What was your favorite story from the Brazil Olympics? Was it:
1) Michael Phelps who has more Gold than Fort Knox and more
Medals than a periodic table?
2) Usain Bolt who teases opponents for the first half of a race, and destroys them in the second half —9 times?
3) Katie Ledecky who defeats everyone at every distance and who, like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes in 1973, makes the margin of victory larger as the race increases its distance?
4) Ashton Eaton the greatest athlete in the world —again?
5) Mo Farah who wins a long race (5,000 meters) and, for an encore, wins again at a distance twice as long (10,000 meters)?
6) Allyson Felix who has won 6 Olympic Gold medals in Track and Field —a claim no other woman can make?
7) The American women’s gymnastics team who is the greatest —ever?
8) The American women’s basketball team who plays with a standard of excellence the rest of the world cannot image —or duplicate?
Those are all great stories. Here’s another one. Maya DiRado is 23 years old, smart, compassionate AND competitive, a fine swimmer, and knows how to set her life’s priorities. After finishing college at Stanford in 2014, her family and friends encouraged her to continue swimming in preparation for the Olympics. She peaked in 2016 and was at her best on the largest stage in the world. She won 4 medals: 2 Gold, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze, including a victory against a woman (Katinka Hosszu) who had won 3 Gold medals in these Olympic games and had defeated DiRado in previous competitions.
There’s more. She was a good teammate, thanking friends, family, and fellow swimmers for their support. And there was her reaction to Missy Franklin, another American Swimmer. Ms. Franklin was “The Golden girl” in the 2012 Olympics. She won 4 Gold medals and it was assumed she would have more success in Brazil in 2016. It was not to be. Her effort was there, but the winning results were not. In the 200 meter backstroke semi-final heat, she finished last. (In 2012, in that event she won Gold in a World Record time that has not been matched since.) In the pool with her was Ms. DiRado. She looked at the scoreboard and saw the results. She moved to Ms Franklin, both of them still in the water, placed her hand, gently, on the side of the face of a defeated champion —and spoke words of consolation, as well as “thanks” for her out-of the-pool leadership for the American women’s swim team.
Later, racing in the final for that stroke at that distance, Ms. DiRado won the Gold medal that Ms. Franklin won 4 years earlier.
There was more. Maya left Brazil early. She returned home to her high school. She spoke to students of her effort and experience. She gave them encouragement. She thanked her former teachers for helping prepare her for college chemistry.
And, lastly, she had already prepared for life after swimming. Prior to the Olympics, before winning any medals, she had announced she would be retiring from her sport. This would be her first, last, and only Olympics. She had married, bought a home, and found a job in Atlanta. (Incidentally, her future employer had told her she could postpone her entrance into the work world to train for and participate in the Olympics. And when they learned of her success, they informed her: take some additional time off for post-Olympic speaking and endorsement appearances.)
Her final achievement was to demonstrate to all her fellow Olympians how to move on to the next chapter in their lives. By her actions outside the pool, before the cheering had begun, she had established her post-fame priorities. All athletes, especially good ones, make this journey. Eventually, they must —with varying degrees of success. “This is an assignment for you, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it. Good luck.” For Ms. DiRado, luck will not be necessary. Because she had effort, appreciation, and compassion in abundance.