By Linda Sladkey
SAN JOSE, CA (August 18, 2016) — Olympic swimmer Madeline “Maya” DiRado captured international fame when she won four medals last week in Rio de Janeiro. But her faith already had earned her respect from the people who know her, including the members of The River Church Community, the Covenant congregation she attends in San Jose.
“It’s fun to just know someone that is an Olympic hopeful but when that individual is such a humble, kind and centered person, it’s inspiring,” said DiRado’s pastor Brad Wong. “People can see the gospel makes a difference in someone. All the positive stories you see about Maya in the media, all that is definitely true about her.”
Shortly before she left for the Olympics, DiRado told the congregation’s youth group that her identity is in Jesus and not in being a religious person or even as a world class swimmer. She echoed those thoughts in a recent Christianity Today article published after she won two gold medals, as well as a silver and a bronze.
“Knowing that I’m a child of God and that his love for me is determined by nothing I can achieve or do on my own has given me a quiet confidence,” she told the magazine. “I think that my faith has helped me chart my own course and pursue my goals when people around me may be going in different directions. Jesus’ love for me and all humanity is something that always helps me better love people around me when things get difficult.”
“The church’s response to Maya’s Olympic success has been celebration and delight,” Wong said. “We certainly knew she had been doing increasingly well in competition and we were all cheering her on.”
DiRado began attending The River Church Community after graduating from Stanford two years ago. While DiRado does travel a lot with competitive swimming, both she and her husband, former Stanford swimmer Rob Andrews, have been regular attenders whenever they are in town.
Prior to DiRado’s move to San Jose, her parents, Marit and Ruben DiRado, relocated there from Santa Rosa and became part of The River, which was pastored at the time by a friend from their college days. Ruben serves on the church’s board, and Marit is also active in ministries within the congregation.
The River is one of the Covenant’s newest churches, having been adopted in at the Annual Meeting in June. The multiethnic congregation began as an independent church in 1997 with a mission to reach out to a post-modern culture and grew to a weekly attendance of 450 people. About four years ago, the non-denominational congregation’s leaders began to consider the value of an official church affiliation.
“As a Christian believer, I have long thought affiliation to a larger body to be a valued thing,” said Wong. “We thought it would be a good gift to the future. We could see that we were fruitful in the present but wanted to know what would set us up to be fruitful in the future.”
Next up in DiRado’s future is a move to Georgia, where she has accepted a position at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm in Atlanta.