Two years ago, Dara Torres served as an inspirational force for middle-aged Americans everywhere when, at age 41, she competed in her record fifth Olympic Games, and won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle in an American Record setting time of 24.07. This was just 15 short months after giving birth to her daughter Tessa.
But this is not Torres’ first foray into swimming glory. She was a World Record holder in the 50 meter freestyle in the early 1980s before it was an Olympic event, and competed in her first games in 1984 as a teenager. She won medals at the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 2000 games, but of course all of that was before the Phelps-led explosion of exposure in the sport of swimming. In fact, she was old at her last Olympics in 2000. There, at 33, she was the oldest member of the U.S. Swim Team, and had her most successful run by winning 5 medals.
Then in 2008, we all know what happened. Torres was .01 seconds away from a gold medal in the 50 free, and won her 5th medal in 5 tries in the 400 free relay. She was hailed as a astonishing physical specimen, and was the other story of the 2008 games, at times even overshadowing Mr. Phelps and his gold medals. From the girl who was one of the best swimmers in the world before she was old enough to drive, to the woman who was one of the best in the world at an age where most are coping with middle-aged realizations of mortality.
Now, Torres is reinventing herself again. This time, more literally. After 30 years of training for elite, competitive swimming, the cartilage in Torres’ left knee was worn down to nearly nothing. Torres recently underwent a revolutionary procedure called Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation which extracted her own cartilage cells, multiplied them times 5000, reinjected them, and let her body regrow its own, natural cartilage.
Six weeks later, Torres was back in the pool training.
Last Wednesday, Torres underwent surgery to remove some nasty looking screws from her shin that were implanted during the surgery. As if you needed any more evidence of this woman’s extreme mental fortitude, she didn’t use prescription pain killers because she “hate(s) the way it makes me feel”. She can’t take ibuiprofen or Aleeve because it would interfere with the cartilage growth. All that leaves her with is plain old Tylenol.
Imagine having these:
Removed from here:
and treating it with nothing but Tylenol. I bet the people who accused her of using steroids feel pretty silly right now, right? And yes, those are Torres’ actual screws, and her actual leg.
Less than a week later, Torres is back in the pool training. This begs the question, why can’t a retired 42-year old swimmer afford to take a few weeks off after such a gruesome procedure. That, my friends, is because Torres isn’t yet retired.
Assuming all goes well with her Franken-knee, and in an interview with the Early Show in December she reported that it was doing great, Torres indicated on her Twitter Feed that she would consider holding on for another Olympic Games.
But don’t worry, Torres has her priorities straight. Her daughter is her number 1 focus right now.
“The competition, the swimming — that’s so not even an issue compared to trying to be there for your daughter,” Torres has been quoted as saying.
But still, Torres is a living evolution of the sport of swimming. She has seem tech suits come, get tech-ier, and disappear again. She has seen starts go from two-footed, to track, and back to two-footed. And through it all, Torres has shown that regardless of the methods, the technology, and the stroke changes, or whatever else comes along, that the mentally tough, physically gifted, work-ethic loaded ones are those who will succeed. The sport of swimming is better off when Dara Torres is a part of it, and so here’s to hoping she comes back for number 6.