When Dara Torres ‘85 returned to Westlake for her senior year to pick up books before the start of school, Headmaster Nathan Reynolds pulled her aside to congratulate her on the gold medal she won at the 1984 Olympic games and asked if she would bring it to school the first day.
“I [said] sure no problem, but I want to stay low key,” Torres said. “I haven’t been here for a year and want to just blend in.”
So she brought the medal to school, expecting Reynolds to put it in his safe and to pick it up at the end of the day. Much to Torres’ surprise, however, an assembly was announced.
“All of a sudden he starts playing the Olympic theme and makes me march out there and puts the medal around my neck,” Torres said. “I was absolutely mortified.”
Tied as the most decorated U.S. female swimmer, Torres will speak at Women’s History Month assembly on March 18. She has won 12 Olympic medals, swum in five Olympic games and was the first female swimmer to compete in the Olympics over the age of 40.
“I was a fish,” Torres said. “I love the water.”
When Torres was seven, her mother would bring her to the local YMCA where her four older brothers swam. Not liking to sit in the stands, Torres began to swim. She joined the Culver City swim team and at 12 years old set her first national record. She attended Westlake school, swimming under the coaching of Darlene Bible, from seventh grade until her sophomore year when she left to train in Mission Viejo for her junior year. That summer she won a gold medal in the Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the women’s 4 x 100-meter relay team. Torres then returned to Westlake for her senior year of high school.
Torres also played volleyball, basketball, and competed in gymnastics.
“Dara is an amazing athlete,” Bible said. “Her athleticism is why she was able to have such longevity in swimming.”
Torres received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville where she received the greatest possible number of NCAA All-American swimming awards, 28. After graduating from college, Torres retired from the sport for the first time and moved to New York to work. She later decided she missed competing and began training for the 1992 Olympic games.
“At that point I was 25 and that was considered really old in swimming years,” Torres said. “You didn’t normally see athletes out of college swimming in the Olympics or competition so at that Olympics I was called a grandma.”
She then retired for the second time — this time for seven years — but came out of retirement and at the age of 35, competed in her fourth Olympic games winning five medals.
“I’m like alright, I’m done, that’s it [after her fourth Olympics],” Torres said. “Walking out of the arena some reporter taps me on the shoulder and wants to interview me. His first question was ‘Are you going to come back for the 2008 Olympics at 41?,’ and I was like oh my gosh that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.”
She did, however, come back to compete in the 2008 Olympics and became the first woman to swim in the Olympics after the age of 40, but did not qualify in 2012 at 45 years old swimming her favorite race, the 50-meter freestyle in the London Olympics by one-nine hundredth of a second.
Torres says she is now “done” with swimming.
“I feel like I’ll be here more for my daughter if I don’t do all the training and travel and all that kind of stuff,” Torres said. “She’s had to endure that for six years and now it’s my time to give to her.”
Apart from swimming, Torres has also worked as a model, television host, motivational speaker and best selling author.