As a swimmer, it takes a lot to keep me out of the pool, especially on a warm June evening! But getting the chance to interview legendary swimmer Dara Torres is definitely a good excuse to stay out of the water.
Torres is a five-time Olympian and the winner of 12 Olympic medals (including four golds). At age 46, she nearly made the 2012 Olympic swim team but barely missed the qualifying time by 9/100s of a second. Today, she's still swimming and is encouraging kids to swim, too, as a leader of the SwimToday campaign. SwimToday launched in May and promotes swimming at the "funnest" sport.
In June, I spoke with Torres over Skype about what makes swimming so much fun, how she first got pumped about the sport, and why kids should learn to swim. And as a competitive swimmer myself, it was great talking about how stressful it can be not to do as well as you hoped and how to overcome adversity — in the pool and out of it.
Why do you think swimming is the funnest sport?
I’ve been swimming for 40 years now, so I know a lot about swimming. I got involved in this SwimToday campaign after I saw a survey that said 80 percent of parents don’t think of swimming first when they’re thinking of signing up their kid for a youth sport. I want to let parents know how fun swimming is, how team oriented it is, how you learn about time management, how it's a sport where you’re never on the sidelines and you’re always competing and always participating.
What are some things you're doing to get kids more interested in swimming?
We've been to different cities to talk to parents. We’re trying to spread the word around about how fun it is. I’m going out to Nationals in August and there are going to be a lot of kids watching big stars like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. I’m going to talk to parents there whose kids aren’t in swimming yet and tell them how fun it is.
How did you get started with swimming?
We had a pool in our backyard and my mom really wanted us water safe. I went through the YMCA program where you start off as a minnow and eventually you end up as a shark. Once I graduated from sharks, I joined a swim team. But I also saw my brothers swimming and I was tired of watching them from the bleachers. I wanted to do what they were doing.
What's the best race you ever swam?
I’d have to say it was a race when I was about 13. I was trying to make a national cut and I just missed it. My coach had me do a timed swim after the meet was over. I had a crush on this boy, so my coach made him watch so I would swim fast. When I saw him watching me, I went much faster. I’ll never forget that because I was given a second chance to be able to qualify, and I was able to qualify.
That reminds me that this year I needed to drop a second off my time to qualify for the Junior Olympics, and I just missed it and it was really upsetting to me. When you don't do as well as you'd like, how do you cope?
You have to look back and ask yourself, did I do everything I possibly could? Did I go to all my practices? Did I do what my coach said? Did I do what my parents said? And if the answer the answer is “Yes” to all that, you can’t really be upset because you tried your best. I know if there’s something I didn’t do, I should have done this and I could have gone faster. You know to do it the next time to try to make your time.
How did you encourage your daughter to start swimming?
It was her own decision when she was older. But when she was younger, we lived in Florida and there’s lots of bodies of water and lots of pools so I really wanted her water safe. I had her in the pool when she was about three months old. It was July, it was really hot, and she really loved it. We did a mommy and me class where I would be in the pool with her. When she was about 3 years old, she was water safe and started in a SwimToday learn-to-swim team. When we moved to Massachusetts, she chose to join a swim team. She does dance and swimming and lacrosse, but it seems like she really likes swimming the most right now.
My parents did that, too. They put me in swimming classes and then encouraged me to join the swim team. But the team I swim on might get cut from the pool closest to my house. What arguments could I make to convince the city to keep the program?
Get people to sign petitions. Get people to go in front of the city board and let them know how important it is to you guys. Let them know how disappointed all the children would be if you’re not allowed to swim on the team anymore.
What is your advice to kids who are considering pursuing swimming?
Take your time and enjoy it and make lots of friends. Listen to the coach. I didn’t really give my daughter advice when she started to swim. I just let the coaches do their thing and let her enjoy it. I just wanted her to be having fun. If she’s having fun, then I know she’s in the right sport.
Visit the SwimToday website for more information on the program! And head to our comments section to let us know what you think is the "funnest" sport!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images