As the only American swimmer to compete in four Olympic Games, Dara Torres thought she was ready to throw in the towel after her gold-medal performance in the 4x100-meter relay at the Barcelona Games in 1992. But nearly a decade later, she surprised everyone except herself by staging a comeback in Sydney and swimming off with five more medals.
Was swimming always a natural fit for you?
I was always very competitive and wanted to be first in everything as a kid. This probably comes from growing up with four older brothers. Whatever they did, I did. I loved sports and grew up with a pool so swimming seemed a natural fit. Even though I competed in gymnastics, volleyball and basketball in school, I loved the water first. I knew I had a natural ability, but I also knew I would have to really push myself to break into the top tier.
Does your confidence give you a competitive edge?
Although I have always been confident in my physical ability, it didn’t give me true confidence. Just because I was good in sports, I didn’t know if I could excel in other things. I had to really work hard to give myself inner confidence. When I train, I’m hardest on myself. I make myself keep setting goals and I never think or say "I can’t." I keep a positive attitude and work hard to make my goals. Whatever I accomplish, I do it for myself. This is what makes me feel truly confident.
Why did you return to competition?
I found I really missed it. I retired from competitive swimming in 1992 to do some modeling and television broadcasting. I still exercised an hour a day because it made me look and feel good, but then I realized I missed swimming enough to want to go back. Some people thought it was impossible. They thought I was crazy, but they never said it to my face. Getting back in shape was tough, but my coach Richard Quick inspired me. He gave me time and patience. He never let me get down. No matter how intense the training was, we were always able to laugh. He added diversity to my workout to break the monotony.
When you’re fit, do you feel beautiful?
My definition of beauty is something that doesn’t necessarily show on the outside. To me beauty is more than physical. It’s how to exude confidence and assurance, and a passion for what you do. The photographs I see in magazines certainly portray beauty, but it’s a different kind. When someone helps others, I find that beautiful. Having a code of conduct is also very beautiful to me.
When you look into your future, what do you see?
Since I swam my first international race when I was 14 years old, much of what I learned was from first-hand experiences. My life centered around swimming and it was such a positive in my life that I have no regrets. If I have a son or daughter, I’ll tell them the same thing. Right now I’m looking beyond athletics. I want to do some more work in television. I’m currently the spokesperson for Nivea Body Skin Firming Lotion, products I use now that I realize the importance of maintaining daily beauty care.
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