Olympic Swimmer Dara Torres Dishes On Turning 50, Body Image And Staying Motivated

After entering her first international swimming competition at age 14, Dara Torres never could have imagined she’d be competing in her first Olympic Games just a few short years later. Since then, she has gone on to participate in five Olympics over 24 years and walked away with 12 medals to her credit. She was also the oldest swimmer ever to compete in the summer Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 at age 41. Her impressive performance there and attempt at the 2012 London Olympic Games has inspired many older athletes to consider reentering competition.
Dara TorresPhoto Credit: Dara Torres
Today, the U.S. record holder in the 50-meter freestyle race can be found at The Bar Method in Wellesley, which she co-owns with Sarah Bauman, to keep her body in shape with the overall body-toning workout. Each Bar Method class begins with a warm-up, upper-body exercises and push-ups followed by a sequence of leg and seat work at the barre and core exercises on the floor. The method predominantly uses your own body weight for resistance along with a few basic props – free weights, mats and a ball. Students are continually challenged with endless variations of each exercise timed to the beat of the music. While each class is unique, the method follows a consistent sequence to work the right muscles in the right order in order to maximize results.

We caught up recently with Torres to discuss turning 50, today’s body image perception and how she stays motivated.

You have competed in five Olympic Games and has won 12 medals in your entire Olympic career. Tell us about your workout routine now that you have just turned 50.

I have had some surgeries so I can’t run like I want to.  I swim once or twice a week now strictly for exercise. I do boxing twice a week, do The Bar Method four times a week and lift weights to try to mix it up. A lot of things have changed since I turned 50. The older I get, the more I have to listen to my body. When you are older, you have to think about why you are hurt and do you have to go see a doctor. You have to slow down and listen to your body. It’s OK to take rests. That has changed for me mentally.

Were you nervous being labeled the oldest swimmer to compete at the Beijing Olympic Games?

To me, that was more of a challenge, so I just said bring it on. People were relying on me to be the face of middle age, but the Olympic trials felt like I had to make the team to prove that age is just a number.

What kept you motivated during each Olympic competition?

Each competition was different and each was different as I got older.  For me, I took a lot of breaks during each competition, which actually proved to be a blessing in disguise.

How did it feel being the first female athlete ever to be featured in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue?

I have to tell you that was awesome. Kathy Ireland was on one side and Elle MacPherson was on the other and they had me in the middle. I had to walk on a pool deck. It was definitely intimidating, but I was a tomboy growing up and wanted to show my brothers that even a tomboy can do this.

What made you decide to get involved with The Bar Method?

I had to find a different exercise. I was at my daughter’s swim practice and someone told me about a great overall body workout. It was actually a father who told me about it and I thought it was funny for a guy to tell me about it. I was hooked my first day. It was so hard, but I was able to make modifications where I could do it. It is very challenging, but you can work as hard or as easy as you want. Some workouts, people think they are too old to do, or don’t want to put a swimsuit on, but The Bar Method anyone can do. We have all different shapes and sizes participating in each class. It can be intimidating at first, but it’s an awesome overall workout.

Any thoughts on the future of wellness?

Everyone is more aware of what they are putting into their bodies. I think it’s great to see the shift towards a healthier lifestyle.

You overcame an eating disorder at a young age. How do you address body image with your own daughter?

I tell her she is beautiful and everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. She is 11, so she is still growing and her body is continuing to change. She has confidence. She swims and plays basketball, so she is always active.

Do you have any advice for young girls looking to get involved in competitive swimming?

It’s a tough sport, but great for your body. There is not a lot of tension or jarring on your body and it’s a real team sport. It’s easy on your joints and provides a great cardiovascular workout.