Dara Torres Took the Plunge at 41

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, we heard countless inspirational stories about the athletes who were there to compete. Every competitor was special and had an inspiring story of the determination, setbacks, and hard work that got them there. But I can't think of anyone more inspiring to me than Dara Torres. After winning her first Olympic gold medal 24 years prior, she had already come out of retirement twice, won nine Olympic medals, and became the first swimmer to quality for five Olympics games.

Age is Just a Number
Being in her 40’s also brought a new set of challenges for this Olympic athlete to contend with. As we age, our bodies need more recovery time after working out, and Torres is no different. She told Glamour magazine (where she was featured as one of "The 11 Greatest Bodies on Earth") that she has to keep her workouts shorter, which means they have to be very intense. And like the rest of us, she struggles with the workouts sometimes. She says there are days when she feels like she is swimming with a piano on her back.

Since I am just one year shy of 40 myself, it sounds younger all the time. But to be 41 and an Olympic athlete is very uncommon. The average age on the U.S. Swim team is 22.8 years—Torres had most of them beat by 18 years. In one TV interview, she talked about stepping onto the blocks to race. She looked at her teammates on her right and left and thought, "I am old enough to be their mom!"

And Torres is a mother. During her pregnancy with her daughter, who was two-years-old during the Beijing Olympics, she swam (non-competitively) for fun and to stay in shape. Although retired at the time, she was eager to get come out of retirement yet again. The moment after giving birth, Torres asked her doctor when she could start working out again! At the U.S. Olympic trials in July 2008, Torres told TIME magazine that she literally nursed her child before jumping on the blocks and racing. There, she set an American record in the 50-meter freestyle and won the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle race. She swam 2.47 seconds faster than her 1988 Olympic effort as a 20-year-old! Many people say that people get slower with age, and most female athletes reach their peaks before they're 25. Good thing Torres didn’t listen!

So What Keeps Torres Going?
She told Women's Health that “dreams can’t stop because you’ve hit a certain age or because you’ve had a child.”

After winning five medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Torres hung up her swimsuit for the second time and took seven years off. By 2006, she was getting the competitive itch again. By her own admission, racing is embedded in her. She simply loves to compete. Torres could have retired for good after her first, second, or third Olympics but she didn’t. She wanted to pursue the dream.

Like other athletes, she has also experienced her share of challenges outside the pool. She has known the heartbreak of two divorces (but is now happily married) and also struggled with bulimia throughout her first two Olympics. Now fully recovered, she admits that she still has to watch out for it. She told Women's Health that depriving herself can lead to problems. Today when she has a craving she goes ahead and eats. But with her level of training, she can afford to splurge a little more often!

How About You?
What limitations have you placed on yourself or allowed others to place on you? Have you used the excuse of age, size, work or parenthood to rob you of achieving something you have always dreamed of? If so, it's never too late. Now you may or may not win Olympic gold but you can get healthy, become fit or lose weight. Where would Torres be if she listened to everyone who told her that she can't? She's living proof that you do not have to give up on your dreams—whatever they may be.

In the August 4, 2008 issue of TIME magazine you’ll find Torres on the cover. In the story, she told the writer that she wanted to convey a single idea: She wanted the middle-aged women who look up to her to feel proud of themselves and believe that they could do whatever they set out to do!

Remember, it is never too late to be what you might have been. Believe in yourself and dream big!

Editor's Note: Check out this YouTube video about Dara Torres' comeback!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints

Member Comments

What about walking in the pool? I am not a good swimmer at all. I am moving in the pool. Report
Torres is one of my Inspirational Motivators. I keep her in my Treasure Box of people I think about when I fall off track. I can count on her to motivate me to get back in the pool and reach for my dreams. It is NEVER too late. I am thankful for her lessons and success. Report
You inspire me to put forth a stronger effort to reach my goals. I'm 61, and going strong!
You inspire me to put forth a stronger effort to reach my goals. I'm 61, and going strong!
Great Inspirational story. Report
Absolutely an inspiration! Age certainly doesn't matter if you are motivated you can do anything!

Keep Sparking!

Nola Report
Good for Dara, but she surely isn't like the average schlock who comes on this web site to get healthy and get some fitness expertise, by any imagination! This story is like magazines pointing out how wonderful different celebs are, they have kids, and blah blah blah............. Report
Yep, she amazes me. When I was first sparking, facing some major life challenges and dreaming of becoming a Mom, Dara's story was a major inspiration. I loved that she was a fierce competitor AND new mother at an older than average age, just like I longed to be.

Wow... and here I am several years later, on the other side of it all, with two healthy sons, realizing my dreams. Her example really helped me through some tough times :o) Report
Great article. Report
I actually don't feel inspired by Dara. I read her book and walked away saying, she and I have nothing in common! Her story is inspirational on the surface, but I don't share her competitiveness or drive. Report
Forgetting that she is an amazing fitness inspiration, she is also just an amazing person.

I'm a self-professed Olympics junkie. The first and foremost memory for me from everything that happened at the Beijing Games in 2008 was right before the Women's 50m Freestyle Semifinal when the swimmers came out to head to the blocks, the suit of another swimmer (Sweden's Therese Alshammar) ripped and Dara stopped to help her attempt to get it together. When it ripped again, Dara flagged down the officials to stop the race so that Therese could get changed into another suit, which she did.

Dara still managed to get focused and blistered the field in the semifinals enroute to a silver by 1/100th of a second setting an American record in the process (the 10th time she has set that record personally and still holds it today). 35 minutes later she was back in the pool winning a silver in the 4x100 medley with a Freestyle split that was more than a second faster than the individual American record in the 100 Freestyle at the time.

Still, with all of the records and medals, it's that one act of helping another competitor so that she wouldn't miss the chance at a possible medal (Therese won 3 medals in Sydney) that stands out to me to show what kind of person she truly is.

I seriously hope that if she does indeed make the team for 2012 in London that she is the flag-bearer during Opening Ceremonies. Team USA could certainly do a lot worse than to make that happen. Report
Amazing story, She is truly an inspiration. Report
Great motivation! I love Dara! Report
I love that TIME cover. It's on my vision slideshow. http://tinyurl.co
(Like the collage, but electronic.)

At 43 I finished losing 170-180 lbs and discovered white water kayaking. I took up snowboarding this past winter. It takes more effort to stay in shape - I really work at the cardio and strength training during the week to support my weekend activities.

But as a result I'm keeping pace with my college-age friends, racing with them in pentathlons, running waterfalls, etc.

It's totally worth it. Report
Dara Torres is one of my inspirations! Thanks for the great article. Report


About The Author

Jason Anderson
Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.