Saturday, July 19, 2008

2008 OLYMPIC BEAUTIES: Dara Torres

Are you getting excited about the Olympics?

I can't wait! I don't know why I'm looking forward to them more this go 'round than in times past, but I am. Perhaps it's the opportunity to see the world's countries coming together yet again in a common arena, competing with each other, yet in a civilized, good-sported way. Well, for the most part I hope.

Reading my latest issue of Glamour gave me such respect for many of our competing women this Olympics. I was so impressed and touched by some of their stories that I'm bringing them here for further attention, straight from the pages of July's Glamour.

I've been fascinated with Dara Torres in particular. The thought of someone my age competing in the Olympics - strong, healthy, fit, determined - I love it! This woman is SUCH an inspiration and I'm thrilled to see so much attention given to her.

When Dara Torres hops into the pool at her Coral Springs, Florida, training facility, goose bumps break out over her broad shoulders. "Michael--the pool is freezing!" Torres yells teasingly to her coach.

"Look around, D," he fires back, glancing at the 34 other swimmers in the pool. "You're the only one who's cold."

"Maybe my skin's just thin from being old," she laughs, and starts swimming.

Torres, as you may have heard, is 41. She's practicing with--and competing against--swimmers half her age. But in the water, you can't spot the small, sun-weathered lines on her face. All you see are lean, toned muscles powering her through the pool. Even at an everyday practice like this one, Torres' coach, Michael Lohberg, can't hide his amazement. "I have her racing with the boys, because the girls--they can't touch her," he says. "She trashes the field."

This is Torres' second comeback. She returned to the 2000 Sydney Games after a seven-year hiatus and won two gold and three bronze medals. Then she hung up her goggles again, even though her coach at the time said, "'It's too bad you're retiring, because I don't think you've reached your peak yet,'" recalls Torres. "At that point, I was like, Get me out of here!"

But by 2006 the burnout had faded. Torres joined a masters team to stay in shape while she was pregnant. She planned to just paddle around, she says, "but all these middle-aged guys wanted to race me. And even though I had this big belly, I couldn't chill and let them win."

Three and a half months after her daughter, Tessa, was born, Torres competed in the 50-meter freestyle at the Masters World Championships. She hadn't really trained for it, but she qualified for the Olympic trials. "Everyone kept saying how great it would be to have a 40-year-old swimmer there. That's what lit a fire under me to get back into it," she says. "All I needed was a little motivation--a little push."

So Torres began training in earnest. But because her body can't recover as well as it used to, her workouts are, by necessity, much shorter than they once were. While many swimmers (including U.S. teammates Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff) often put in morning and afternoon pool sessions, Torres sticks to one; she also spends less time strength training. Yet she won the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. nationals last August and set a new American record in the 50-meter free. She's now the top U.S. contender in the race.

How can a woman this age, who trains less than she ever has, swim faster than ever? Some speculated she was on drugs; eager to put the rumors to rest, Torres went to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and asked officials to give her frequent, random blood and urine tests (she's passed them all). "I wanted to take every proactive measure I could to prove that I am clean," she says. "I want Tessa to be proud of what I've done--and how I've done it."

When Lohberg explains her success, it seems to make, oddly, perfect sense. First there's Torres' insatiable drive. It's also possible that Torres is hardwired to go fast. "Speed is something that you either have or you don't. You're born with a certain amount of fast- and slow-twitch muscle. And Dara has a very high percentage of fast-twitch," says Lohberg. After so many years of training, he says, "all you have to do is sort of reactivate it and fine-tune it."

Torres says she didn't embark on this journey for gold--or silver or bronze. "For me, it's about trying something that no one my age has done before, and to hopefully open doors for other athletes who may have closed them because they felt they were too old. You can't put an age on your dreams."

- The above article was taken from Glamour, July 2008

photos: Glamour, MSNBC


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