By Ben Goldstein
Although Dara Torres â85 has been taken all across the globe in her swimming career, it all began in Los Angeles when she was still a Westlake Wallaby.
In 1984, while most of her classmates at Westlake were enjoying the last weeks of summer before their senior year, Torres swam for the United States in her first Olympics in Los Angeles. At the age of 17, she won gold in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay; 24 years later, she medaled in the same race in Beijing.
In addition to her silver in the freestyle relay, Torres won two more silver medals this summer in the 50 meter freestyle race and the 4×100 meter medley relays. The 41-year-old has won 12 medals during her career, and the Beijing Games marked her fifth games â the first time a swimmer has competed in five Olympics.
“I donât look at myself as the oldest swimming medalist in Olympics history,” Torres said. “The water didnât know my age when I was competing, so it didnât really dawn on me that I was older than my competitors. When people bring it up then I think itâs a nice honor, but I never felt my age when I was swimming.”
In her seventh through tenth grade years at Westlake, Torres was coached by Darlene Bible, the current athletic director and head of the schoolâs swimming program. Torres and Bible have kept in touch over the years, and Bible was in Beijing in August to cheer on her former swimmer.
“Daraâs main strength and the key, I believe, to her success in regards to her longevity, is that she is an amazing athlete,” Bible said. Torres was not simply a star swimmer at Westlake. She played in CIF finals for volleyball and basketball, in addition to playing a year of collegiate volleyball at the University of Florida.
“Westlake played a role for me in everything I did, not just swimming,” Torres said. “I think the tough academic regimen helped me work harder in the pool and taught me what hard work is all about. Itâs a school that teaches you about becoming a woman, learning to work hard and to dedicate yourself to the things you love to do.”
Over the years, Bible has coached many All-Americans and a national champion, Alexis Larsen â94, but she certainly hasnât had a swimmer as well-known as Torres. Bible regards the Olympian as a role model for her current swimmers.
“I talk about her commitment, dedication, amazing work ethic and kind, generous heart,” Bible said. “You do not have to be ruthless to be a world class athlete. You just have to want it and be willing to work for it.”
Since competing in Beijing, Torres has travelled for sponsors and has given motivational talks.
“Right now Iâm enjoying being home with my [2-year-old] daughter Tessa and spending time with her,” she said. “Iâve gotten back in the water to swim for exercise, and by the end of the year I will decide if I want to swim for world championships.”