Beijing 2008 was the last time superstar swimmer Dara Torres won an Olympic medal. But the 12-time medalist and four-time Olympic gold winner hasn’t really slowed down.
The only swimmer to represent the USA in five Olympic Games, Torres was named one of the 30 Most Influential competitors by Swimming World in 2015, and the “comeback queen,” as she’s called within the international swimming community, also won the ESPY’s “Best Comeback” award in 2009, right after winning three silver medals in Beijing.
Her memoir, Age is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life, became a top-selling business books upon its publication. And since her last swimming foray, during the 2012 Olympic trials, Torres has filled many roles as a television personality, an active motivational speaker and fitness instructor. She’s even done a little auto racing, competing five times as a driver in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Grand Prix.
Most recently Torres expanded her business activities, partnering with a CBD products company called CaniBrands to become their Chief Lifestyle & Wellness Officer.Â CEO Chris Lord said CaniBrands is thrilled to have her on board.
“Dara’s journey has inspired millions of women to pursue their dreams,” Lord said. “She embodies the “Yes I Can!” approach to life that we promote. Dara’s insight and life experience will be paramount.”
Torres hints that the longevity of her athletic career and her personal need to stay active drew her toward the partnership: âLater in my career I found myself trying for more holistic way to managing everyday aches and pains,” Torres said. “Iâm at that age, at age 52 now, and still have an active lifestyle, but prefer a more natural approach to pain, helping with sleep, and all the things that happen for women, especially active women, over 40.â
A week ago I got the honor of speaking with Dara Torres. We talked about her Olympic career and her competitor’s mindset, plus what she’s been doing since hanging up her swim cap.
Andy Frye: Youâve medaled in five different Olympic Games. How did the journey change since your first gold in 1984 in Los Angeles?
Dara Torres: That Olympics in â84 everything felt so big, because I was 17 and just this punk kid bouncing off the walls. There you had Michael Jordan and Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis and Patrick Ewing, all these super athletes. And for me it was an adjustment and a little nerve-racking since I wasnât used to swimming in front of 10,000 people.Â
But everything changes quickly. By the time I swam in Beijing I felt the experience as a 41-year-old would versus a hyper 17-year-old. Once the nervousness subsides, you just feel appreciative to be there, to be competing among the best in the world.Â
The biggest thing I learned is that when training, itâs not about the medals, but what it takes to be there and that you grow. I grew by putting in the commitment and time just to get to each Olympics.Â
AF: How did the way you swim change over such a long career?
Torres: Definitely technique changes. Over the years, I went from a stroke that was long and pretty, to a stroke that shortened and changed my pull and the catch you get on the water. For me the biggest thing was my preparation. After I got out of college I was someone who loved to do extra. My mentality was the more you do, the better you do.Â
Starting my second to last Olympics, in 2000, it all changed. I had a hard Friday practice once and my coach told me âgo home, go to a movie if you want, but youâre doing absolutely nothing until Monday.â I thought that was going to kill me. But when I came back Monday I had one of the best workouts ever.Â
So, by the time I was getting ready for Beijing 2008, I knew I couldn’t do just what everyone else was doing. I was in my late thirties but got my head around recovery being different (for older athletes). You have to listen to your body.Â
AF: Now that youâre retired from competition, what occupies your recreation and workout time?
Torres: Iâm used to being in the pool, staring down at the black line four hours day. Even when I took time off between Olympicsâwhen I thought I was retiredâI always exercised, and thatâs what made it easier to come back.Â
Upon retiring, I went from four to six hours of training to one or two hours of exercise a day. I like to spin, I like to play golf, and I still like to swim and thatâs the easiest on my joints. Iâm also a Barre Method instructor, and I also do another workout called solidcore, which is pretty intense and reminds me of the core work I did before each Olympics. And now, I only do weights once a week. I try to maintain a plethora of different activities so I donât get bored.Â
AF: Your bio mentions that time you came in second place by 1/100th of a second. Talk about your competitive drive as an athlete and a person.
Torres: It got easier as I got older. The hardest thing for me when I touched the wall and saw that I lost by a hundredth of a second. I thought I would never be able to let that go. But what I did as I got older was to look back and ask myself, âDid I really do everything I could have, to be the best I could be?â Overall I was able to see that I did do my best. That comes with general maturity.Â
My daughter is in competitive lacrosse now, and one of the other parents at a game once asked why I wasnât yelling. It’s hard but, I try to not channel my competitiveness into every single thing I do.Â
AF: A lot of sportswomen cite you as an inspirational figure. What do you make of that? And what women inspired you to excel in sports?Â
Torres: That always makes me feel good when I hear that. I always had different athletes that inspired me for different reasons. When I was a young swimmer, there was a swimmer named Jill Sterkel, a world record holder, known as the âqueen of sprintsâ and she won the only gold against the East Germans in 1976.
I remember one time I was supposed to be replaced in a race event by another more experienced USA swimmer. Jill took me under her wing, we hung out and watched soap operas, and she encouraged me not to get down about it. Another time after competition, when I got out of the pool she took her towel and gave it to me. It was little things like that stick with me more than what someone accomplishes, or what they won.Â