The Road to Rio With Dara Torres

Another Olympic fortnight has come and gone and the torch has been snuffed in the Sochi snow. You know what that means? Countdown to the Summer Olympics 2016! Last week, Parents attended a Winter Olympics viewing party hosted by Swim Today to cheer on Team USA and ease on down the Road to Rio with some of Team USA’s most prized Olympic swimming medalists.

First up: Dara Torres, twelve-time Olympic medalist and mom to Tessa, 7, and stepmom to Krista and Lucas, 14. We sat down with the woman who appeared in five Olympic games—and was the oldest member of her Olympic team in both 2000 and 2008—to chat about life as mom-athlete, getting in shape after baby, the recent Sports Illustrated controversy, and all things swimming.

P: What you do you hope your kids learn from your many accomplishments?

DT: I think the biggest thing is: Don’t put an age limit on your dreams. I had such a long career. As I got older I learned not to listen to the negativity, or to use it as a positive. There are so many people who said, “Oh she can’t do this. She’s too old.” Whenever they said that it just fueled me even more. So: Turn negatives into positives and don’t put an age limit on your dreams.

P: You started off so young, then became the oldest woman on your team—not just in your last Olympics but in the one before that. What kept you going?

DT: You know, it goes by so fast. You talk about your kids growing up and it goes by so fast, but I look back on when I went to my first big international meet and it seems so long ago. The biggest thing [that kept me going] is I was able to go away from the sport a little bit to re-fall in love with it. To miss it again. When you’re in something for so long, you kind of loose the oomph, you know? I think that’s what separated me from some athletes who did the sport for so long [without a break]. I was able to fall in love with it again.

P: What is it about swimming that makes it such a great sport for young kids as well as a lifelong sport for adults?

DT: I think the biggest thing for everyone combined is the health and fitness aspect. It’s easy on the joints. It’s great cardiovascular exercise. It’s a great team sport and an individual sport. You have relays. You have individual events. Its’ a nice combo. For kids, especially, the great thing about it is that they’re not sitting on the bench. You’re always participating, you’re always part of the team, you’re always in the swim meets. So, I think that makes it a little bit special. I see my daughter and she’s not particularly super athletic, but she loves it.

P: Is swimming her “thing”? 

DT: We haven’t really figured out what her thing is. She’s only 7. She seems to like lacrosse and tennis, but swimming is something she’s been doing all year. I don’t push it, but she seems to really like it a lot.

P: It was just a little over a year after you gave birth to Tessa that you won at Nationals. How were you able to get back into that kind of shape? And, what is your message to moms trying to get back into shape after Baby?

DT: Make sure you do stuff while you’re pregnant. I’ve always loved exercise. I’ve always loved the way it’s made me feel—releases stress. I love the way it makes me look. [Pregnancy] was really hard for me at first because I wasn’t swimming, I was just going to a gym and I kept getting sick. Until I thought I can swim! I get sick in the gutter and I can just keep going. I gained 35 pounds, but it was all here [in the belly] and within two or three weeks it was all gone. I got back in the pool about a week and a half after giving birth and then swam at the meet three weeks after giving birth. Again, it’s a little out of the ordinary. I’m not telling parents to go do that. But I think if you get into fitness and exercise and you do that while you’re pregnant, and not using it as an excuse to eat everything you want and gain weight because you’re pregnant, I think that it’s easier to lose the weight.

Pregnancy Workouts: Best Butt Exercises
Pregnancy Workouts: Best Butt Exercises
Pregnancy Workouts: Best Butt Exercises

P: What was or what is the most challenging thing about being a mom and an athlete?

I think the most challenging thing is finding a balance. You look at working parents and they’re working kind of like I’m training. I really look to working parents out there as my inspiration.

P: What is your favorite part about being a mom?

DT: That it’s not about you. You know? That you’re taking care of this little thing that has unconditional love for you and you have unconditional love for them. And it’s just a great feeling.

P: What is your favorite thing to do with Tessa?

DT: We have a lot of little things we do, but she has two step-siblings now and so I try a date night with her or something special. Up in Massachusetts where we live the schools have half days once every few weeks and I’ll take her out and we’ll go to lunch or the mall or something.

P: And I have to ask the question. There’s a lot of controversy going around about the SI cover with Barbie and whatnot. I know that you modeled for them in the past. Tell me about your choice to do that and your philosophy on this.

DT: I was thrilled when I got asked to [model] because I grew up as a tomboy. I was like in love with all my brother’s friends. They had wanted nothing to do with me because I was such a tomboy. I thought I’m gonna show all my brother’s friends, look who’s in Sports Illustrated now! (And all the girls who thought I was such a tomboy growing up in school.) So to me it was great. I wasn’t into dolls or makeup growing up and so it was new to me being taken care of and dressing up. It was almost like doing something that you missed out on as a kid. The funny thing was that I wanted to wear the hot sexy suits and they kept putting me in speedos and I was like, “I don’t want this! I want two pieces! I want to look hot!” There’s stuff out there that some people like and some people don’t like and this is their tradition and they’ve done it every year and it’s gotten a little more raunchy and risqué, but it’s once a year. If the girls don’t think it’s right or their parents don’t think it’s right then they won’t do it. I’m more for freedom of expression and speech.

P: We’re at the tail end of the Winter Olympics. The next thing is Rio. Is there any sort of camaraderie between Winter Olympians and Summer Olympians?

DT: I went and gave a talk to the women’s hockey team before they left for Sochi. The sports are so different; the trials are so different, but I think you find the athletes in the Summer Olympics really cheering on the Winter Olympians because you know what they’ve been through, you know how hard they’ve worked and the competition and the nerve before you compete.

P: Tell me about Rio. Where can we expect you?

DT: Hopefully sitting on my couch watching and cheering everyone on. I’m done competing. I think when I went to my last trials and missed the team by 9/100 of a second, that was kind of it. My time was still good; it’s just that the girls are getting that much faster. I just thought it was time for me to sort of move on and be there a little more for my daughter and for my stepkids. I’m very happy.

Kick off your countdown by browsing the latest swimming gear at Shop Parents.

Photograph: Courtesy Mike Comer/ProSwim Visuals

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