If you’ve ever thought, “I’m too old for that,” get a load of Dara Torres. I did just that when I attended a workout organized by Bengay and hosted by the athlete herself. (That’s her leading us in stretching after a sweaty workout at Crunch gym.) The absurdly muscular athlete looked glowing and friendly as she described her goal of earning a spot as the eldest female swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team—the London games would be her sixth. When she’s not training, she’s a TV personality, model, and mom to her preschool-age daughter. She’s also 45 years old. Kind of makes your age-related excuses sound hollow, huh? We sat down with her to talk about fitness, motivation, and aging amazingly.
As a professional athlete, you have to juggle training, traveling, competing, and being a mom. How do you find balance?
For me, it’s all about communication. I worked out a schedule that works best for my daughter and me, letting my coach know that my little girl is my number one priority. We’ve set a schedule where I can get my daughter off to kindergarten and then do all my training while she’s at school. By the time she comes home, most days, I get to hang out with her. The hardest thing is when I have to go out of town. At her age, though, kids are pretty materialistic, so I bring home a Barbie for her and that makes it a little bit better.
How does your physical fitness impact your emotional health, and vice versa?
I like the way working out makes you look on the outside, but in additional, it’s an incredible stress-reliever for me. Whenever I’m feeling frazzled, if I go to the gym and work out, and even if the problem isn’t solved, I feel so much better. Getting your adrenaline going really helps you with the emotional aspects of your life.
In 2008, the press pegged you as the comeback kid. What can we expect in 2012?
Well, I’m 45. You have to look at everything realistically: I was 41 in 2008, so I’m not a 21-year-old doing it again at 25. My goal now is that I’d love to make the Olympic team. It’s not as easy as it was four years ago. I’ve had a few challenges along the way, the biggest of which is reconstructive knee surgery with a two-year recovery. But I like challenges—they make me want to try even harder.
Is your approach to training different now from when you were younger?
Everyone said I was middle-aged at 41, but I’m really middle-aged now in terms of my hormones and everything. When you get older you have to listen to your body. For me, recovery is huge. As a younger athlete, when I had an ache or pain I would just work right through it. Now I need to take days off—I train five days a week—and I really need to stretch. When you get older you have to incorporate recovery into your routine.
So many women want to exercise more but struggle with the motivational component. What advice would you give them?
It’s hard not to get motivated when you love doing something so much, so it’s not like I have to dig deep to motivate myself. I feel like if you really enjoy doing something, the motivation’s there. But at the same time, I’m not one of those people who jumps out of bed all, “Whoo! Let’s go!” I have my days when I’m exhausted. That’s where setting goals is important—I’m always keeping my eye on what I want to accomplish. Also, a lot of women come up to me and say I’ve inspired them to do things they thought they were too old to do. Hearing that is completely motivating!
(Photo by Marion Curtis, StarTraks)