I got an opportunity to interview Dara Torres late in 2010, one of the nicest athletes I’ve spoken with… Check out the article below that I wrote. It appears in Gold Coast mag’s January issue. While tooting my own horn is one thing, what really made this story were Jason Arnold‘s amazing photos. What a pro. We were lucky to have him for this shoot.
There must be something in the water. Something about its very nature has kept Dara Torres in it for decades. Grade-school science has taught us water is essential to life. And for Torres, it’s defined hers.
Even now, Torres can’t seem to stay out of the water. In two days she’s scheduled to meet with her coach at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex to continue training for the 2012 Olympics in London, what would be her sixth games, a record for any athlete. She’ll be 45 years old when the games begin.
Torres can’t seem to find the right words to describe how she feels when in the pool. “I have a little bit of a relationship with the water,” Torres tries to explain. “It just feels good. I feel like I have a connection with the water when I dive into it.” A connection, definitely. A second home, possibly.
A resident of Parkland, Fla., Torres sets up shop at the Coral Springs pool. Her office is a chlorine-filled vat with 600,000 gallons of water. She wears a swimsuit to work, usually a Speedo one, size 27L. Her job description entails paddling and kicking through the billions of water molecules in front of her faster than anyone else in the other lanes and touching the end wall first. Easier said than done.
If you’re anything like the rest of us, swimming only matters to you a handful of days once every four years. For whatever reason, it’s not something most sports fans normally follow. But since the 1984 Olympics (a year before Michael Phelps was born) – where the non-swimming world met a toothy, smiley 17-year-old Torres – we’ve become captivated by the blonde athlete. And more recently, at the 2008 games in Beijing, America’s obsession exploded.
She made waves qualifying for the U.S. squad at 41 years old. It was her fifth Olympics. Oh, and she just had a baby a couple years earlier.
She anchored the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay, earning the U.S. a team silver. Seven days later, she won two additional silver medals, one in the 4×100 medley relay and another in the 50 freestyle, where she missed out on gold by a mere 0.01 seconds. One-hundredth of a second – the time it takes for lightning to strike, one-thirtieth of the time it takes your eyes to blink – was what stood between Torres and Olympic immortality. In second place, Torres was sandwiched in between gold and bronze medals winners (ages 24 and 16, respectively) whose combined times on earth didn’t even equal Torres’ 41.
Technically speaking, Torres is a freak of nature. A freak. At 43 years old, she shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing now. She shouldn’t be competing at the level she is, her body shouldn’t be as rock hard as it is after having a baby, and her competitive drive should have long been satiated after winning 12 Olympic medals.
Chiseled, defined and cast in pure muscle, Torres suddenly has become the poster child of peek performance and durability. At 5 feet 11 inches, Torres’ long, lean, muscular frame is something only Michelango could have sculpted. When in the water, she’s as close to a human torpedo as physically possible. Lucky for us, she’s sharing her secrets and has authored two books on keeping fit, Age is Just a Number and Gold Medal Fitness.
“I remember thinking when my mom turned 40 that that was so old,” Torres says. “She didn’t look old or anything, but 40 was just so old to me then. Now that I’m a few years over 40, I really do think age is just a number.”
It’s unfair to compare athletes in different sports; one sport’s physical demands can be vastly different than another sport’s. But let’s point out some facts. Michael Jordan’s third and final retirement from professional basketball came at 40 years old. Wayne Gretzky retired from the NHL at 38. Jerry Rice played his last NFL game when he was 42. Tennis darling Chris Evert retired at 34. And with each of them, none bore a child during his or her playing career. Torres, though, is still churning her body and competing at the highest levels well into her 40s, child in tow.
Torres is the first person to admit she has to work at staying in peak condition. As fit as her body appears on the outside, it’s due to the hard work she puts to making the inside of it healthy. She refrains from drinking alcohol and staffs an arsenal of fitness experts that include a swim coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach, two masseuses, a chiropractor and two stretchers. Her stretchers utilize a form of resistance stretching called Ki-Hara that works the core and takes a person’s own resistance to strengthen and elongate their muscles.
Thankfully, Torres has chosen to compete in a sport that’s low impact and isn’t too harsh on the joints. But there’s no doubt Torres’ age has affected things. She admits to recovering a lot slower than when she was younger, and she needs more rest in between workouts. But she’s in tune with her body, using products like Fitness Nutrition supplements’ Gold Medal Aminos to rebound quickly and safely.
Torres grew up in Southern California, the fifth of six children to Spanish-born Edward Torres, a real estate investor, and Marylu Kauder, a model. She started swimming after tagging along with her older brothers to their YMCA swim practice when she was 7. And if age really is just a number, Torres should remember the number 15, the age she was when she first broke the world record in the 50 freestyle, clocking in at 25.69 seconds, an entire tenth of a second faster than the previous record. The record has since been broken over and over again (twice by Torres herself), and it’s no surprise Torres is on the hunt to break it once more.
Swimming is a funny sport. What separates one swimmer from another can be so little, so minute. Sprint swimming is even funnier. Swimmers spend months practicing and countless hours training in the pool and the gym, and for the elite it’s all over in about 25 seconds.
Torres is the personification of inertia. Her life is built around speed. From competitive swimming to her hobby of car racing to beating out her siblings on calling Mom first on her birthday, Torres is constantly in a state of motion (and when she’s resting, she’s constantly resting, known to sleep between 8 and 10 hours a day). Today she’s being interviewed, in two days she’ll be training at 7:30 in the morning, then hop on a flight to Toronto, and in a week’s time she will be in Jordan.
She’s gone into retirement twice before – missing out on the 1996 and 2004 Olympics – and just didn’t like it. When she’s not swimming, Torres’ telecommunications degree comes in handy as she often reports for various television programs. “I feel like the only time I can relax is when I go to sleep,” she says. “It feels like I’m always doing something. That’s my life, and I don’t think I’d want it to be different.”
But for her, no matter how busy Torres is, she makes it clear 4-year-old Tessa Grace comes first. Named after Rachel Weisz’ character in the 2005 film “The Constant Gardner,” it’s fair to say Tessa has stolen her mother’s heart. “My daughter, the minute she was born, was the most important thing in my life,” Torres says. “Next, I’m an athlete, and everything else follows that.”
A single mother (Tessa’s father and Torres’ former partner is Dr. David Hoffman, who remains close to the family), Torres finds she’s away from her daughter more often than she prefers. Neither Mom nor Tessa likes that very much (“I tell her I have to work to buy her presents,” Torres offers. “She just says, ‘OK.’”).
Today Tessa’s a little sick, a little sniffly, and is staying home from school. It gives Torres some unexpected time to spend with her daughter. Save for the scheduled interview, feeding their dog Radcliffe, and a few other errands, mom and daughter can have some quality time together.
Invariably the water will come calling Torres again, and she’ll have to pull herself away from Tessa to train. Priorities have changed since having Tessa, but there is one constant. It’s easy to blame the water, the solvent, silky environment Torres spends most her days in. But really, the constant is Torres herself. There must be something in her.