Dara Torres: Life in the Fast Lane: It's Been a "Surprising Ride" for the Seasoned Olympian, Who at 41 Is Living Proof That There's No Age Limit on Dreams

By Reiss, Dawn | The Saturday Evening Post, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Dara Torres: Life in the Fast Lane: It's Been a "Surprising Ride" for the Seasoned Olympian, Who at 41 Is Living Proof That There's No Age Limit on Dreams


Reiss, Dawn, The Saturday Evening Post


It is a balmy fall day just a few weeks post-Beijing Olympics. Inside the historic Hilton Hotel on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, guests and fans are swirling in a frantic frenzy like worker bees preparing the hive for its queen.

Milling around the hallways are the biggest and best names of last summer's Olympic games: NBA'S Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and WBNA's Lisa Leslie; pitcher Jennie Finch; decathlete Bryan Clay; volleyball queens Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh; swimmers like Jason Lezak and Aaron Peirsol; tae kwon do's Steven Lopez and Mark Lopez; and the women's water polo team. The excess of athletic star power is the result of Oprah's season kickoff show at the nearby Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Of the more than 150 athletes brought in for the show, most have ended up here.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Included in the mix is 41-year-old Dara Torres, the record-setting five-time Olympic athlete who made news for competing in the 2008 Olympics as the oldest swimmer in the history of the games. Torres stands nearly six-feet tall. Her striking pixie-cut hair, megawatt smile, and toned frame are the essence of athletic power. Her left wrist and hand are bandaged in a brace--the result of her smashing her hand into the pool wall during one of her three silver-medal races where she tried to out-touch her nearest competitor, Germany's Britta Steffen, in the 50-meter freestyle, only to lose by 1/100th of a second.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"I was bummed I lost by a fingernail," she says. "But it was just an awesome feeling to be back there, having that adrenaline rush to be competing and racing the best in the world."

At this particular moment, Torres is concerned about getting a table at the now-packed Pavilion, a casual hotel-based restaurant that has a long line trailing into the hallway. With Tortes is a posse of friends and trainers, including Anne Tierney, one of Dara's two personal stretchers. Our group is told there aren't any available tables. Taking control of the situation, Torres wanders through the restaurant. Seeing a few empty spots, she returns and implores the hostess to combine a few tables. Within a minute or two, we are seated.

Tortes starts scanning the menu. Mound her neck are two chains she wears for good luck when traveling. On one is a pair of her father's World War II dog tags. The other--a necklace with an angel--is a good luck charm.

"All I ate while I was in China was McDonald's," Torres says with a laugh while ordering a sandwich with fries.

BEYOND BEIJING

These days, Torres is concerned with being a mother to her 2 1/2-year-old, Tessa Grace, and trying to make a living through post-Olympic endorsements.

"You just have to find a balance, like any working mom," she says. "At first it was hard. My biggest fear was doing my training and being away from my daughter. You just have to realize you have to do your thing and also be a mother."

The fifth of six children and oldest of two girls, Torres spent her youth in California. As a Beverly Hills teenager, she attended Westlake, a private girls' school in Los Angeles. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Torres ran around in tube socks playing soccer with her older brothers. Years later, she earned 28 All-American swimming honors at the University of Florida.

She competed in her first Olympics in 1984 at the age of 17, followed by stints in 1988, 1992 and 2000. It was after her third Olympics that Torres became the first athlete model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She also spent time swimming with sharks and jumping out of planes while hosting "Extreme Step," a segment of the Discovery Channel's former science and technology show The Next Stop. …

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