THE MOMENT It’s hard to believe, but after appearing in three Olympics, Dara’s impact moment involved a comeback in 2000, after taking eight years off. It was 2000, and there I was at thirty-three trying to make a comeback in international swimming. Each day I went down to Stanford and trained with a group of elite swimmers in an effort to make the National team. My presence was evidently a turnoff to some of the other swimmers, and so I was kicked off the national team. I was shocked. HELP ARRIVES Fortunately, Coach Richard Quick stepped up and offered to train me individually, which essentially kept my Olympic comeback hopes alive. The problem was that once the workouts started I was out there all alone, with no teammates to train with, to judge myself alongside of, to talk to.
As a result, I just could not get motivated. After a short time, I told Coach Quick that it just wasn’t going to work out and he stopped me in my tracks by saying, Dara, when you’re out there at the Olympics are you going to worry about where everyone else is, or will you just be trying to do your best? Naturally, I said, My best, and he said, That’s what practice is aboutdoing your best, not watching what everyone else is doing. I was sold and from January until the Olympic trials I trained by myself with Richard. She made the team and won five medals at Sydney, including two golds, tying Marion Jones for the most medals by an American athlete during those Olympics.
I was able to feed off the negative energy, and it took me to my goal. Looking back, I should have realized how young my teammates were, and even though they accepted me they evidently didn’t like how it was DARA TORRES 199 turning out and forced Richard to toss me. Looking back, if I had stayed on that team and did not get that push and the one-on-one training, I don’t think I would have done as well or possibly even made the team. IT WASN’T ABOUT ME The 2000 games stood out for me because of the number of people I felt I was racing for. So many women came up to me and said that they gave up on this or that, or that they were too old, or that their opportunity had flown by. But after seeing my comeback at thirty-three, after an eight-year layoff, they were inspired to try. I began to read these letters and hear these stories and think I had to do well, more for them than for me.
ANOTHER TWIST I said I have to win and hate to lose, and yet my most gratifying medals were the three bronzes I took in Sydney. Why? Because I had never won a medal in an individual event, so the bronzes were gold to me. In addition, my time in that race was as good as I’d ever done. Yes, I have to win at everything, but I knew I did my best and third was my best, so that was great. PERFORMING UNDER PRESSURE I was always nervous before big meets and big races, but by 2000 I think I had it mastered. I would see these other swimmers looking so nervous and I thought, I used to be that way. There was a time when before the big race I would feel sick to my stomach. But, thankfully, that changed, and by 2000 I would go through the process of asking myself a series of questions: Did I train the right way? Did I eat the right foods? Did I do everything my coach told me? I answered yes to all those questions, and then I went out and actually had fun. MY WRAP You will not meet someone so accomplished yet less impressed with herself or what she did than Dara Torres.
As far as she’s concerned, that was then, this is now, and it’s time to move on. In reality, she was and is a tireless worker who, 200 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME I think, would have been an All-American basketball or volleyball player because she had the perfect mix: immense talent and immense desire, a killer combo. This is a combination that worked for her and could work for you, too. Notice, too, that she had to win but could live with not winning. She stumbled but never fell. Her story is not about swimming and winning, it’s about striving. DARA TORRES
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