Last year I wrote about Diana Nyad, a 61 YO female swimmer who was attempting to swim 103 miles (expected to take 60+ hours) from Cuba to Key West (see “Going for Greatness at Any Age“). Nyad, unfortunately, was unsuccessful in her attempt (see “60 is the New 40“), but the fact that at 61 she was even attempting such a feat was amazing and inspiring. While I am “creeping up there” in age, but I hardly consider myself old ~ I think I have a lot of good years left in me. Certainly I believe that treating your body well with good nutrition and exercise (of both the body and the mind) is critical to not only living a long life, but also one worth extending (I have no interest in sitting in some care facility at age 80 unable to actually do anything). So I love following stories of people who are pushing the boundaries, who are not letting age tell them what they can and cannot do.
Enter Dara Torres. I mentioned her in my “Going for Greatness at Any Age” post ~ Dara has competed in 5 Olympic Games, beginning with the 1984 games at the age of 17 where she won her first medal (a gold) as a member of the 4 x 100 relay. At age 21 she added a bronze and silver medal. At age 25, she again won gold for the 4 x 100 relay. At that Olympics in Barcelona her teammates referred to her as “grandma.” Eight years later, at the age of 33 (must have been a “great-grandma” by then) she earned five…yes, five medals, two gold medals for relays and three individual bronze medals. At age 33 Dara was not only the oldest member of the Olympic swim team but also the winningest member. And if that wasn’t accomplishment enough, she did it again…in 2008 at the age of 41 Torres qualified for the Olympic swim team heading to Beijing. She came home with two silver medals, one in a relay and one in the 50 meter freestyle (she missed the gold by .01 seconds). Now, for those of you unfamiliar with swimming, the 50 meter freestyle is a ridiculously difficult event. Yes, it is only one length of an Olympic-sized pool, but it is an all-out sprint. It is like the 100 meter dash in track. The 50 meter freestyle requires a perfect start and all-out effort. There is no room to make up for any error, even a very small one. In nabbing the silver medal Torres also managed to set a new American record for the 50 meter freestyle. BAM!
Is she done? Apparently not. I was reading the Washington Post yesterday and ran across a great article about Dara, who just so happens to be training for her sixth Olympics, London 2012. At the age of 45. Unbelievable. The US Olympic swimming trials will be held June 25-July 2 in Omaha, Nebraska, at which time Torres will attempt once again to make the Olympic team. At this point she is training for only one event, the 50 meter freestyle (in 2008 she also trained for the 100 meter freestyle although she opted not to compete in it). And she has a legitimate shot at making the team. At a meet in March she posted the second fastest time for the 50 meter freestyle. Is Torres a freak of nature? Probably. Let’s be honest here, not everyone is meant to do this, nor is everyone even capable of doing this. To be an Olympic athlete takes tremendous dedication, in addition to talent. To do it at age 45 is just absurd. So while we can’t all jump in the pool, swim for two hours a day, add two hours of weight training and expect to qualify for the Olympics, we can all be inspired by Dara to try a little harder, to put a little more effort towards taking care of our bodies.
In the article, “2012 Olympics: Dara Torres Pursues Speed For the Ages,” Torres is referred to as an “animal.”
Actually, she’s a middle-aged woman who bought her first pair of reading glasses last year, dyes her hair blonde to cover the gray and can’t believe she was foolish enough to install a magnifying mirror in her bathroom, given the alarming amount of information it reveals.
So in some ways at least, she’s like the rest of us.
Torres admits that this time it’s harder. At age 45 she is finding the recovery process from her training sessions more difficult. Her body doesn’t produce the same amount of hormones that help promote muscle recovery and strength gains.
“This has definitely mentally and physically been the most challenging Olympics I’ve ever trained for by far,” Torres said. “It’s only been four years since the last one. I don’t know why I’m suddenly feeling the effects of age now, but I am.”
Certainly Torres is doing everything she can to give herself an advantage, short of using performance-enhancing drugs (like everyone else, Torres has been drug-tested many, many times and has never failed). In addition to her swim coach, she employs two people who stretch and massage her muscles, a personal trainer, a rehabilitation specialist (Torres had surgery in 2009) and a chiropractic neurologist. She breathes pure oxygen while on a stationary bike three times a week, subjects herself to electric shock therapy three times a week, sleeps with a magnetic device under her mattress and takes supplements such as black licorice, rhodiola, ginseng and amino acids. Says Jeff Drobot, medical director for the Calgary Centre for Naturopathic Medicine,
“We’re trying to make her better in spite of her age.”
While Torres admits that the physical part is harder and puts her at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to her younger counterparts, she feels that mentally she is at an advantage. She has trained for so many years, has been to the Olympics so many times, and has the maturity to deal with all of it, something which she feels the younger swimmers struggle with more.
To me, Torres is an inspiration. Can I be like her? Never. But can I push myself a bit harder, can I not use the “I’m tired” excuse or the “I’m getting to old to do this” excuse because I know what Dara is doing at the age of 45? I love the ending of the Post article:
Torres said she is still amazed by the impact she’s had. Her daughter’s elementary school recently organized a career day, and it never occurred to Torres to volunteer. One of her daughter’s teachers asked if she would come in and speak to the children about being an Olympic athlete, and Torres felt silly for not having thought of it herself.
“Is this really like a career?” she said. “I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.”
Me too. Read the Post article and make sure to watch the accompanying video clip. You will be inspired. And if you need further inspiration, here is a 17 minute talk by Diana Nyad about her recent attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West (she hasn’t given up her quest). She ends it by paraphrasing the poet Mary Oliver…
“so what is it, what is it you’re doing with this one wild and precious life of yours?”