Being “middle-aged” isn’t slowing Dara Torres down one bit. In fact, the 12-time Olympic medalist, mother, author and spokesperson is going for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic swim team.
If she makes it, Torres, 44, would not only earn the chance to compete in her sixth Olympic Games but would be the oldest swimmer in the Olympics ever.
Training is a little different this time around. Torres, mom to five-year-old Tessa, says her workouts and recoveries have changed in the last four years. In fact, she’s even partnered with Bengay Cold Therapy, a cooling rub designed to alleviate minor aches and pains.
We spoke with Torres about her latest goals, her typical workout routine and how she balances her elite training with raising her daughter. An edited version of the interview follows.
More: You’ve had such an amazing career, what made you decide, at 44, to vie for another Olympic team spot?
Dara Torres: People always ask that—like, why are you doing this? You’re so old! (Laughs.) First of all, I have people come up to me and tell me I give them inspiration to do things they didn’t know they could do. That inspires me to want to keep going— it’s just a rewarding feeling.
The other thing is, I just love swimming. I love the sport of swimming. I love being in the pool. I love working out. I love competing. I really love it. And I’ve never wanted to be one of those athletes who just goes downhill really quick. When it happens, my suits will be hanging up to dry, but right now I still have it in me. Can I be as good as I was in ’08? I don’t know. I'm three years older and it’s just much different. I really am a middle-aged woman, so there are lots of factors that go into it this time around.
More: Do you find yourself taking a different approach to training than you did when you were younger?
DT: Much different. I’m doing less—I’m only training for one event now [the 50-meter freestyle], so it makes it—I shouldn’t say easier, but it would be so much on my body to train for the events that I trained for in ’08.
The weight training is a little bit different, because when you get older it’s not as easy to hold your muscle. You get muscle, but when you get ready to go to a meet and you kind of taper down and don’t do as much, you lose muscle much quicker than anyone who’s younger. So you have to take that into account. And I just try to get as much recovery in as possible.
More: How does it feel to have your daughter watching this time around?
DT: It’s really fun to have her there. She loves it. She came to Nationals and really, really enjoyed it. She understands it better now, obviously—she was only a little over two at the last Olympics. She came home the other day and said, “Mom, it’s really cool you’re an Olympic swimmer.” Probably one of her friend’s parents told her that, you know? It was unusual for her to say something like that and I was kind of taken aback, like, “Whoa. My daughter thinks I’m cool.” (Laughs.) But it’s fun. I’m glad that she can understand it.
More: What’s a typical workout day like for you?
DT: I’m in the pool about two hours and then I go in the gym. Today I was in the gym for an hour and 45 minutes. I do what’s called dryland cords, which are almost like resistance bands, but they don’t stretch very far, and they have paddles on the ends, so you’re basically mimicking, say, a butterfly stroke—the underwater part. So I did cords for about 20 minutes in the gym, then I do my rehab strength work for my legs for about 30 minutes, and then I do my regular strength program. Then I’ll come home and get something to eat and then I do Ki-Hara stretching. That’s pretty much my day.