Five-time Olympian Dara Torres ’85 encouraged students to “never put an age limit on your dreams” at the annual Women’s History Month Assembly March 18, where she spoke about her career, which spanned from her junior year at Westlake School for Girls to a final attempt to qualify for the 2012 London games as 45-year-old mother.
Torres said her competitiveness helped her brush off speculation that age would hold her back in multiple comebacks to competitive swimming.
“If someone says something negative to me, I’m going to use that as fuel,” Torres said. “I’m just going to show them wrong and prove them wrong.”
“When you dive in the water, the water doesn’t know your age,” she added.
After winning a gold medal at age 17 in the 1984 Olympic Games, Torres went on to win 11 more medals to tie as the most decorated female swimmer in the United States.
Twenty-four years later, Torres made her third comeback to swim in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she won three silver medals. She found that training with swimmers much younger than her helped in raising the competitiveness of the team, as younger swimmers pushed themselves not to be beaten by her.
She found that her maturity and experience helped her excel over her younger competitors. Torres said her age provided perspective, so she was in a calmer state of mind for competition.
“I realized at that moment when I walked in that I see things much different through the eyes of a 41-year-old than I did through the eyes of a teenager,” Torres said, reflecting on observing the girls in the ready room before a race. “For these kids, the race was the most important things in their life. My daughter was my most important thing. Maturity-wise, I was at such an advantage compared to these kids.”
Torres added that swimming helped her as a student at Westlake, which she initially did not want to attend.
“The more involved I got with sports, the better my grades got,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be the woman I am today if I hadn’t gone to Westlake.”
While in middle school, Torres was coached by current athletic director of operations Darlene Bible, who helped Gender Studies teacher Malina Mamigonian reach Torres to plan the assembly.