Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dara Torres' New Book -Age is Only a Number

I’ve been old before. I was old when I was 27 and I got divorced. I was old when I was 35 and I couldn’t get pregnant. I was really old when I was 39 and my father died. But when I was 41 and I woke up in a dorm in the Olympic Village in Beijing, I didn’t feel old. I felt merely—and, yes, happily—middle-aged. “The water doesn’t know how old you are,” I’d been telling anyone who would listen for the prior two years. Though sometimes, I have to admit, I would think to myself, Good thing it can’t see my wrinkles.
On the morning of the 50-meter freestyle Olympic finals, I set my alarm for six o’clock. I’m a type A person, or as some of my friends call me, type A++. Basically, I’m one of those people who has to do everything I do to the fullest extent of my ability, as fast as I can. When I recently moved houses I didn’t sleep until all the boxes were unpacked and all the pictures hung on the walls. I don’t like to do anything halfway, and I’d set this crazy goal for myself: to make my fifth Olympic team as a 41-year-old mother. And the truth was I didn’t just want to make the team, either. I wanted a medal. I wanted to win. Along the way, I also wanted to prove to the world that you don’t have to put an age limit on your dreams, that the real reason most of us fear middle age is that middle age is when we give up on ourselves.
It was a pretty crazy thing to be doing, especially under the circumstances. If you’ve ever had a toddler or watched a parent you adore die, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Young children and dying parents are truly exhausting, and I had one of each as I made my comeback. But I knew in my heart I could succeed—as long as I left no stone unturned.
The race started at 10 a.m., so I’d worked out my schedule lead­ing up to the race. I needed to drink my Living Fuel breakfast shake at 6:15 a.m. so I’d have time to pack my roller bag—two practice suits, two racing suits, two pairs of goggles, two racing caps, two towels, and my dress sweats, in case I got a medal—before I caught the 6:45 a.m. bus over to the Water Cube. I’d then do my whole routine—wake-up swim, shower, get mashed (a massage technique done with the feet), do my warm-up swim, get stretched, and put on my racing suit—all before I headed to the ready room, where all the swimmers wait before a race. My teammates, I have to tell you, thought that roller bag was the funniest thing in the world. They were all 15 to 25 years younger than me, the ages I was at my first, second, and third Olympics. (I was already beyond their ages by my fourth.) Their bodies were like noodles, and they all carried their gear in backpacks. But I’d noticed that backpack straps made my trapezoid muscles tense up. Swimming fast, for me, is all about staying loose. So I had a roller bag. If I looked like a nutty old lady—fine.
The Beijing morning was humid and dark when I left the Olympic Village. All the other swimmers were probably still asleep. I think that the only other person awake in the Village was Mark Schubert, the National team coach of the USA Olympic swim­ming team. Mark had also been my coach at my first Olympics, 24 years ago. And he’d been my coach at Mission Viejo, where I’d gone to high school to train at age 16. I love Mark. He’s like my fairy godfather, constantly dropping into my life at just the right time, giving me what I need, and then disappearing again. That morning he’d woken up in the Beijing predawn to help me pre­pare for my race. We’d come a long way together. Though he wasn’t my coach in the months leading up to the Olympics, he’d taught me the discipline and the commitment to detail I now so prized.We were now going—literally—one more lap.
I rolled my bag out to the sidewalk as quietly as possible. I didn’t want to wake anybody—partly because, as a mother, I knew the value of sleep. But selfishly, I also wanted my competitors to stay in their beds. The longer they slept, I told myself, the greater my advantage and the more time I had, relative to them, to prepare. Since my daughter had been born I’d been saying that waking up with a kid in the middle of the night was going to give me an edge at some point. I hoped this was it.

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