Dara Torres is a record breaker. The twelve-time Olympic medalist is the first swimmer from the U.S. to compete in five Olympic Games and is also the oldest swimmer to ever earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. The 45-year-old mom of 6-year-old Tessa isn’t slowing down one bit as she eyes competing in her sixth Olympic Games in London this summer (whether or not she makes the cut will depend on how she places in the swim trials held in Omaha, Nebraska in June). Dara chatted with us about training for the Olympics, her hectic life as a mom and partnering with McDonald’s on Champions of Play, which aims to get kids across the country in shape.
What has training for the Olympics been like for you this time around?
When it comes to training, this time around I’m concentrating more on my nutrition and dry-land strength training, especially core strengthening and recovery. I know what my body can take and I know when I need to stop. In addition, this time around I am letting myself enjoy it. Swimming is my passion—it is something I eat, sleep and breathe. In the past, my competitive spirit would not allow me to really sit back and enjoy the ride since I was so determined to win, which most young athletes are. As I train to make the 2012 U.S. Swim team, I am still hopeful that I will win in London. However, it’s more about enjoying the ride, the people along the way and the longevity of my Olympic career. I am especially excited to have my daughter by my side this time around too.
What does work life balance mean to you?
Balance doesn’t come easy for me—it’s tough balancing training with parenthood. I have to balance my time between being a busy mom, training and taking time to relax. It’s taken a lot of practice and discipline, but I find a way to make it work.
How do you explain your hectic work schedule to your daughter, Tessa?
Tessa and I are very close and she is involved in every aspect of my life. We talk about my training, career and competition, and I’m able to use my life as teaching lessons for her. She knows the importance of being active and working towards something you love, and following her passion with some hard work.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being an Olympian and a mom?
Time. I want to do everything and be everywhere, especially when it comes to my daughter. However, at the end of the day, I feel that my dedication and passion for swimming have made me a better mom. I feel that my actions are setting a good example for my daughter. The lesson is simple: if you want to achieve something, hard work with a side of sweat and tears will get you there. I'm showing Tessa that it is never too late to reach your goals. I want her to look at me as a role model and be proud of what I've accomplished. If that inspires her to be something great, then I've done my job.
You’ve partnered with McDonald’s on their Champions of Play program. Tell us about it.
Yes, I am excited to serve as the global ambassador for McDonald’s Champions of Play program to help spread the word about the power of play to kids and families around the world. In this role, I’m encouraging kids and families to take a balanced approach to eating and physical activity. It’s a really cool initiative. McDonald’s is going to send to the Olympic Games 200 kids from around the world who have participated in fitness challenges and other competitions that have focused on active play and balanced eating. While in London, the kids will attend sporting events, make friends with kids from around the globe, tour the city and meet other athletes who are competing for the Gold. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime. Kids all over the world can also be Champions of Play through the Olympic Games Challenge website, where they can log their daily play and activities, and help Olympic athletes do fun and imaginative challenges like pole vaulting to the moon or swimming across the Atlantic Ocean. It helps show kids how being active can be fun, and they will see a fun welcome video from me.
Any healthy eating and exercise tips you can share with busy families?
One of the most important tips I can provide kids and families is something I strive to do with my daughter each day—be active. It’s so important to create overall well being. I know finding the time is difficult, but it can be as easy as running races near your home, playing soccer or catch in the backyard or even dancing in your living room to your favorite music. Whatever it takes to get your kids in the habit of being active.
What’s next for you?
I will keep doing what I'm doing now, and that's being a mom, an athlete and a career woman. Even when my days of competition are over, I will still remain an avid swimmer. Swimming is my passion, and one does not give up on it just because one aspect of it, the competition, is over.