Dando’s dedication overcomes all obstacles
When Marian’s Maddie Dando decided that swimming was her sport to participate in throughout high school, there was never a doubt that she was going to try and be the best she possibly could be.
Dando set the bar very high for herself - and then did everything in her power to reach it.
That not only meant year-round dedication to her sport, but also overcoming any obstacles that could prevent it.
Throughout her career, Dando dealt with the problems all independent swimmers have. With Marian not having a pool or a team, Dando was left to figure out venues and practice schedules on her own.
“Because my high school doesn’t have a pool, I don’t get the chance to hop right in the pool (after school),” said Dando.
Instead it meant rushing home from school and then traveling to and from that day’s destination. It also occasionally meant early-morning workouts before school started.
Earlier this winter, Tim Dando, Maddie’s father and also her coach, talked about just how determined she was and how much she wanted to be a success.
“She has gone above and beyond,” said her father. “We would get online and look for places like the Danville Community Center, and go there so she could swim. One day she got up at 4 a.m. to get there at 5 to swim for two hours before school because she was going on a retreat for two days and didn’t want to miss more than one day.
“I can’t say enough about her dedication and her motivation. She’s just a tremendous young lady.”
Finding different places to swim, scheduling pools hours at all times of the day and night, and then traveling back and forth to those destinations are things the fan or the casual onlooker never knows about.
But for Dando, that extra dedication provided the essence of success.
While finding pool time was something Dando dealt with throughout her career, getting prepared for her senior season in the pool meant overcoming a new obstacle - COVID-19.
The pandemic not only canceled the 2020 PIAA State Championships that Dando has qualified for, but it also made preparing for the 2021 season much more difficult.
Among the difficulties was finding a new place to practice after COVID took away her home base at the Hazleton YMCA.
“There was a lot of doubt with the season,” Dando said. “I’m so thankful for the Bloomsburg YMCA. They took me in and saved my season.
“I was definitely worried. First, the concern was if there was going to be a season. Then, if there was one, the concern was if I would have a place to practice and get ready for it. I’m really thankful that everything worked out.”
As it turns out, it worked out perfectly for Dando.
The senior won yet another District 11 championship in the 100 backstroke this past season - her fourth in as many tries - and once again qualified for the PIAA championships.
Although Dando’s 12th-place finish at states didn’t quite get her a medal, her time of 59.28 was one of the best swims of her career, and more than a half-second faster than her seed time.
Her performance at districts and states also earned her the Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Swimmer of the Year award for the second straight season.
“I think it is really special,” Dando said when she was informed about the award. “This is such an honor.
“You don’t put in all the work just to win medals and awards. But at the same time, it’s nice to see your hard work has paid off.”
Dando’s hard work also paid off in scholarship offers from numerous schools to continue her academic and athletic career.
In the end, she chose Division I St. Francis of Loretta, a stone’s throw from the bright lights of the city of Pittsburgh.
Being a top-flight student helped Dando as well. Not only did she receive a partial swimming scholarship, but she also earned the Founder’s Scholarship from St. Francis and the Franciscan Scholarship as well.
Her career goal is to become a physician assistant.
“Swimming has enabled me to get to a very good college, and to be able to focus on my career goals too,” said Dando. “I’m so excited and honored to receive all the recognition that has happened to me. But I never could have achieved it without the love and support from my entire family.”
Tim Dando, who in addition to coaching Maddie in swimming, is an algebra teacher, volleyball coach and basketball coach at Bethlehem Freedom High School, knows what it takes for young athletes to reach their goals - and is extremely proud of how Maddie has dedicated herself to reaching hers.
“She worked extremely hard and was highly motivated,” he said. “She wanted to succeed so badly, and pushed herself to be the best she could be.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her.”