Dara Torres: Don’t put an age limit on your dreams

June 22, 2017

Dara Torres, the oldest and 12-time Olympic medalist, says your dreams shouldn’t have age limits. She addressed attendees of the American Optometric Association at Optometry's Meeting 2017, detailing her Olympic comeback after seven years away from the sport and giving birth.

Washington, DC-Dara Torres, the oldest and 12-time Olympic medalist, says your dreams shouldn’t have age limits. She addressed attendees of the American Optometric Association at Optometry's Meeting 2017, detailing her Olympic comeback after seven years away from the sport and giving birth.

“You think as you get older competitiveness dies down, but it doesn’t,” says Torres.

In 2004, after winning her fifth Olympic medal, Torres recalls her thoughts while standing on the podium receiving her medal.

“I’ll never forget the fifth medal being put around my neck,” she says. “I was thinking about retirement and finding a job as the medal ceremony was happening.”

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Life after the Olympics

In 2005, Torres became pregnant with her daughter. In an effort to stay in shape she was determined to work out while pregnant, but she had to stop as it made her sick each time.

For exercise while pregnant, Torres decided to resort to what she knew-swimming.

When she was six months pregnant, Torres recalls a time when her competitiveness got the best of her.

“A guy tried to race me at six months pregnant,” she says. “I went really hard despite my doctor’s orders. My coach was not happy with that decision.”

After the birth of her daughter, Torres was eager to get back in shape though her doctor advised her to not do anything for six weeks.

“A week and a half later, I went to the gym and was working out,” she says. “My doctor was there and I tried avoiding him, but he eventually saw me. So, I asked if I could swim in a meet in a week and a half, and he told me to go ahead.”

She swam successfully in the meet, so she decided to swim in another one with her husband at his request. She did so well in the meet with her husband that people told her how great it would be to see a 40–year-old in the Olympics.

Back to the Olympic Games

Torres recalls toiling over getting back into the pool competitively and wrestling with her feelings of attempting a comeback after years away from the sport. She spoke with family and friends to see if they would talk her off the ledge but found only more encouragement to return.

“After enough chatter, I decided to do it and begin training for the Olympics,” says Torres. “I had to think if Jack Nicklaus can win the Masters over 40, why can’t I win in the Olympics.”

 

Though confident in her ability to pick up where she left off, she quickly was reminded of the rigors of the sport her first time back in the pool.

“I got back in the pool, it felt great, and the muscle memory was kicking in,” says Torres. “But things have changed in my seven years away from the sport, such as training and stroke.”

She recalled her coach suggesting that she should join some of the 16- to 17-year-olds during their practice to get up to speed on changes in the sport. Though reluctant at first, Torres decided to go through with it to help polish her technique.

“I was willing to do whatever it took to be the best I could be,” she says.

During training, Torres found motivation in her unwillingness to lose to her younger counterparts.

“The younger kids fueled me as I didn’t want to be beaten by them, and they didn’t want to be beaten by me,” she said.

During Olympic trials, she recalled the nervousness and pressures she felt that never affected her before.

“I had to go back to the place mentally of when I decided to come back to swim,” she says. “Once I did that, I started rolling and winning events. I had to focus on why I came back-for the love of the sport.”

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Positivity key to success

Once Olympic trials were complete, Torres and team were off to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic games. At age 41-years-old, Torres was the oldest member of the team, and the youngest member was 15.

But for the first time Torres was able to pause, look around, and be thankful for being there.

Media covering the Olympics couldn’t help but focus on Torres’ age and the possibility of a 41-year-old winning an Olympic event.

Before the event, Torres was in the waiting room with her counterparts. She noticed the nervousness and look of fear on the faces of her competitors.

“Age actually worked to my advantage-I was able to pull it together while the younger participants were nervous,” she says. “I was able to deal with the pressures better than my younger counterparts.”

Torres ended up winning silver in the 50m race, losing out on gold by one one-hundredth of a second.

“One hundredth of a second is faster than you can blink,” she says. “I was not happy that I lost and went under water to yell at myself.”

A reporter pulled Torres aside once she exited the pool. She asked Torres what she should have done differently.

“When thinking about giving everything you have and not being able to accomplish the goal you want, it was hard to find an answer,” she says. “So I said I shouldn’t have filed my nails last night.”

Torres credits her success to having a positive attitude and putting an age limit on her goals.

“It is amazing what a positive attitude and thinking positively can do for you,” says Torres. “Don’t put an age limit on your dreams.”

Read more from Optometry's Meeting in Washington, DC here