Those of us who have passed our 40th birthday pay close attention to athletes as they get older. While our real major league dreams may have long passed, there’s comfort in seeing athletes your own age succeed against competitors far younger.
Case in point: swimmer Dara Torres.
Torres is the only American swimmer to compete in five Olympic games. In fact, she was the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team in 2000, and went on to compete – and win medals – in 2004 and 2008. At age 45, Torres narrowly missed out on making the 2012 Olympic team.
But she continues to serve as a role model for elite athletes, and the rest of us.
"I enjoy going on television and interviewing with people and interacting, that's my personality, that's what I like to do, so I don't do it because I want to be seen, I do it because I really enjoy doing it," she says.
Torres will be talking with some Wisconsin high school swimmers this week about overcoming obstacles, turning the negative into a positive, and what elite-level competition is like.
But Torres says there was a time when she didn't think of herself as a role model for younger swimmers - namely, when she made her first Olympics at 17.
"At that age, it’s so surreal – because you’re 17, you’re still in high school," she says, "and so it’s just seems like it can’t be happening that kids would come up and want your autograph and kind of want to be like you."
Now, there are plenty of adults who want to be like Torres, who is also the author of two books, Age Is Just a Number and Gold Medal Fitness. She says she never thought she'd be competitively swimming in her 40s.Order 'Age Is Just a Number' now!
"When you're younger and your parents are in their forties, you just think that's really really old," she says. "And so when I decided to go about and make a comeback for the '08 Olympics, I was 39 years old. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how my body would react to it. I didn't know if I'd get injured easily."
Those doubts, though, didn't stop her.
"Once something's in my head I just do it, so I was going to go for it," she says.
Now that her Olympic days are behind her, much of Torres' interactions with swimming meets are through her daughter. Torres says she often has to stop herself from trying to give too much advice to her 7-year-old - or her daughters' coaches.
"The hardest thing for me is going to my daughter's swim practices and trying not to say anything to the coaches if I see something that's maybe not right and sort of bite my lip...and let the coaches do their thing," she says with a laugh.
Her daughter is also plenty busy outside the pool, participating in other activities like lacrosse, tennis and dance. As far as Torres is concerned, that's just fine.
"I don't want to be one of those pushy parents," she says. "Whatever she decides she wants to do down the road, she can chose on her own. I try to stay a little bit out of it."
Torres is also in Wisconsin this week for having helped the Milwaukee-based Koss Corporation develop a line of fitness headphones which is launching today. She says she helped in part with the design and wants to support women-made products.