I‘m not a swimmer, but this book made me want to be. Dara Torres writes engagingly of training for her Olympic comeback at age 41, interspersing workout details with stories about her personal life. I was stunned by all the stuff she had going on at the time, and this made me take a hard look at my own routines. This is one of the great things about memoir and biography; we can imagine the mindset of a famous person because we can relate to the ordinary parts of life behind the scenes.
I was never an athlete. Last picked for every team, et cetera. It wasn’t until I was 35 that it really ever occurred to me to do anything physical on purpose. Earlier, I would have been alienated by hearing about someone else’s workouts. Now, I hear something like “700 sit-ups a day” and I have more of a sense of what that means. Torres’s descriptions of exercising and training at an elite level give a vivid sense of what it is like to spend that amount of time in a pool, how much precision goes into even very small motions repeated tens of thousands of times, what it’s like to live in the body of an Olympic medalist. How much of it is focus and desire, and how much of it is repeating the same activities over and over and over again? How much is passion, and how much is willingness to tolerate boredom?
The lens into the mind of a singularly focused, ambitious, driven person is really interesting. It’s even more interesting to consider that Torres’s comeback came during what was probably one of the worst, most stressful periods of her life. Without too many spoilers, she endured grief, personal loss, and multiple surgeries, and had a major crisis going on during the Olympics. She also started swimming again while pregnant at 39, so the comeback arc included pregnancy, childbirth, and raising her daughter to toddlerhood. Any ONE of these events would have qualified as a good-enough reason to avoid training. Anyone would have understood that she had a lot to deal with. She did it anyway.
Dara Torres proves it’s true that Age is Just a Number. Indeed.
“Fifty for fifty” is my thing. I’ve been saying I want to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday. It sounded somewhat implausible to me in my late thirties. People like Dara Torres are showing more and more that the human body has more potential than we’ve ever realized. We have no idea what our limits are. Probably one day in the future, being younger than forty will be seen as a disadvantage for an aspiring young athlete. If I ever do a triathlon, I’ll be looking at pictures of Dara Torres for inspiration.
“...the real reason most of us fear middle age is that middle age is when we give up on ourselves.”
“If she didn’t have to be old at 70, I certainly wasn’t going to be old at 32.”
“When I was young, I was a natural athlete, but undisciplined.”
“I’d told the reporter, “If I look at it realistically, I can’t do the times I did when I was 33.” I’d been wrong.”`
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.