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by Ashley Gangloff

April 14, 2009

Most Masters swimmers know what it's like to do the parenthood balancing act. You know how to run errands, you stop by the grocery store on the way home from work, you carpool the kids and you make it to the bank by 5:00 all while planning dinner, crossing tasks off your "to-do" list and hoping to get in a measly 30-minutes of swimming. Dara Torres is no different. Actually she is one of you.

Most of you know Dara as the superstar 41-year old Olympic hero. Yes, she is that, but she is also a full time parent like many of you. Dara, a longtime Masters swimming advocate and U.S. Masters Swimming member, set aside time to chat with us about motherhood, swimming and her upcoming book tour.

Dara Torres on Motherhood
We know the swimming part of Dara's story: swimming superstar; swam in five different Olympic Games over three decades, and won more Olympic medals than she has fingers. Her story is sprinkled with well-publicized hardships such as her fathers passing and an eating disorder, but it is the average, everyday things that make her one of you. At the age of 38 and retired from competitive swimming for seven years, she desperately wanted to be a mother. Dara learned that she was pregnant with her first child and a new chapter in her life began. Her pregnancy wasn't easy. "At seven weeks pregnant I was completely nauseas and needed to do something. I went back to the pool, not for competition, but hoping that it would make me feel better," shared Dara. She hadn't swam so much as one length of the pool in the past seven years. Dara's return to the water was never intended to lead to elite level competition. "Pregnancy was the only thing that was going to get me back into the water. I like to stay fit and knew that if I were pregnant I would have no choice but to be conservative in the water. You know, just do it for fitness." It may have started as morning sickness relief and a great way to stay fit, but well into her pregnancy, Dara's competitive juices started to flow again. In Dara's book, "Age is Just a Number" she recalls a story about racing fellow Masters swimmer Randy Nutt while pregnant.

Dara had her daughter, Tessa, and was back in the water (actually in a Masters meet) within three weeks. "I couldn't help myself," she said laughingly. "I love my time swimming with the Masters while pregnant and I also love to race." Tessa, now 3, also knows how to swim. "She's definitely a water baby," said Dara. She went on to describe the Mommy and Me swimming classes that she started taking with Tessa when Tessa was just 3 months old. "My daughter knows what I do. She'll pull my goggles out of my bag and wear them around the house," shared Dara. Dara's focus has changed since the birth of her daughter. "Swimming is important, but since Tessa, I have a whole new perspective about what's important. She is my world."

Dara Torres on Swimming
"Swimming is the best form of exercise for adults. It's healthy for the body, it's good for the mind and it has a terrific social component," said Dara. When Dara dove in at seven weeks pregnant, her goal was not to stroll into the Olympic games and claim even more medals. It was to simply feel better. But something happened while in the water. She let her mind go and her competitive nature began to take over. "I've always been competitive," said Dara. She continued, "I love to swim. but I love to race even more." Dara, who was more than twice as old as some of her competitors in Beijing, knows that just swimming is no longer enough to prepare her for a race. She works with massage therapists and stretchers as well as coaches and other support staff to get her into race-ready shape.

If you think Dara's reprise in Beijing was a great ending to a perfect story, think again. Dara is still stretching, lifting and swimming to get ready for this summer's World Championship Trials. "I don't usually share my personal goals," she said, and continued, " but I can promise you that I will keep swimming as long as I am still improving." And improving she is and continues she does.

Dara Torres on Her Book Tour
When you think this superhero-seeming woman can't possibly juggle one more thing, she adds a book tour to her "to-do" list. Dara, whose story is famous around the world, has teamed up with Elizabeth Weil to write a book that recalls various elements of her history including her experience with U.S. Masters Swimming, her training up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and her life since the Olympic Games. She writes about life as a balancing act: personal struggles, athletic ups and downs and her own personal achievements and defeats. The book tour for "Age is Just a Number" begins this month and will send Dara across the country from talk show to talk show. "I guess at this point I am used to it. Just like anything else you put your head down and just go," she said when asked about yet another thing to fill her already-busy calendar. "I have learned to juggle a million things and I don't see it slowing down any time soon." Click here to learn more about Dara's book, "Age is Just a Number".

In her own words, Dara's life "Is like juggling." Though most of you have a macaroni necklace, a video camera strap or some other I'm-a-parent-symbol around your neck rather than two silver medals from last summer's Olympics, you and Dara share many commonalities. All of you, Dara included, make an effort to find time for yourself. All of you, Dara included, know that when you dive into the water that the water doesn't know how old you are and even if it did, it wouldn't care. And, all of you, Dara included, understand that age is just a number and whether your goal is to swim a 500 yard free without stopping, to complete your first open water competition or to blow away the rest of the field at the 2009 World Championships you can accomplish your dreams at any age. All of you are busy. All of you have families, responsibilities and a long list of "to-do's" but swimming "just feels good," and it is the common bond that brings together Olympic icons, fitness swimmers, triathletes, moms, dads, stay-at-home parents and professionals alike.