Dara Torres celebrates after finishing the semifinal of the women's 50-meter freestyle at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming on July 1, 2012 in Omaha, Neb.
Baseball, basketball, soccer, football and… swimming. That’s right, swimming is a youth team sport, too. In fact, swimming is “the funnest sport there is” — according to the SwimToday campaign launched by Dara Torres and 10 swimming industry organizations, including USA Swimming. The summer-long campaign is designed to bring more kids who already know how to swim into the sport and onto swim teams.
The “Funnest Sport” campaign will address common misconceptions about the sport and encourage parents to consider swimming as a youth sport option for their children. And who better to lead the charge than Torres, a five-time Olympian who is now raising a young swimmer of her own?
Torres tied the record for most Olympic medals by a U.S. woman (12) at the 2008 Olympic Games at age 42, and then retired (for perhaps her final time) following the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Following a recent leisurely swim practice, she spoke to TeamUSA.org about SwimToday, the “funnest” moments of her career and what it’s like raising 8-year-old Tessa, a future Olympic hopeful.
Why are you so passionate about the SwimToday campaign?
When they asked me to be a part of it it’s such an easy fit because I have an 8-year-old and she’s in that age range where you’re trying to find things for kids to do after school. There are so many advantages to putting your child in swimming. Teamwork is an important thing that I don’t think people would expect out of the sport of swimming, but you have to understand that you’re not spread out across a field; you’re doing the same workouts, you’re having fun, you’re swimming against your friends. It’s a very fun environment for kids where you learn about dedication and sacrifice and hard work, and you really do have fun. I think parents enjoy it, too. You hang out with the other parents, you get to know them, you go to swim meets with them. It’s just fun for everyone. So we’re trying to get the word out there so parents start thinking about swimming. The other thing is there’s really no risk of injury, if you think about it. It’s very easy on your joints and it doesn’t wreak havoc on your body.
What do you think is the most common misconception about swimming?
I think the misconception is it’s not thought of as a youth sport. Eighty percent of parents don’t think about swimming as a youth sport for their kids when they’re looking at sports; it’s always baseball or soccer. For some reason, parents don’t lump it in with the other sports and I’m not really sure why. Obviously I’ve been around swimming for so many years but I don’t know why they don’t look at it as a youth sport, but it really is. If you look at kids who swam, they’re in such great shape now, and it’s so good for your body and your soul and your mind. I’m not really sure why parents don’t look at it as a youth sport but I think that having the Michael Phelps, the Ryan Lochtes, the Missy Franklins out in the forefront is getting the sport out there and a lot of kids are being registered because of that, but there’s still a long way to go to go.
How old were you when you started swimming?
My mom had a pool in our backyard so we were water-safe at a really early age. I went through the whole YMCA where you started as a minnow and you graduate and you’re a shark, then I joined a swim team at probably 7 or 8 years old. I played so many other sports — soccer, basketball and volleyball — but swimming was always my favorite sport and not because I was good; there was something about the water, something about the swim meets.
What was the most fun aspect of the sport for you?
The friends. I had more friends there than I had in school. You’re traveling on the weekend together, you’d have slumber parties, you have your blankets and your pillows in the car and you go to all the swim meets. It’s not like one game on a field and you’re done after an hour-and-a-half; swim meets are day meets and on the weekends, and you’re there with your friends and you’re cheering them on. You don’t really see the team camaraderie you see in swimming in other sports. You’re all there doing team cheers and standing by the lanes and cheering everyone on.
You’ve obviously had a very lengthy career. What one moment stands out as the most fun for you?
Oh God, you’re asking someone who swam for 40 years. I would have to say after having my daughter, swimming my first meet three weeks after I had her and having the responsibility of being a mom and also competing at a swim meet. There was something so fun about it that I had this responsibility of not only being a swimmer but being a mom, and it was fun finding the balance between those two.
You retired from the sport a few times in your 40-year career. What kept you coming back?
I think the fact that I didn’t retire for two, three, four weeks — it was years at a time — and I truly missed the sport. I missed the competitiveness and I missed the atmosphere I had of being with my friends, and that feeling that you have when you wake up in the morning and you go to the pool and after you’re done swimming you feel refreshed, and it’s a stress reliever. There’s a lot about it that I missed and it was so fun being back in the sport.
Will you ever return to competitive swimming again?
(laughs) Probably no. I actually just got out of the pool before I called you. I’m really enjoying being there for exercise and to take it all in and not be there racing. I think every time I retired, which was probably three or four times, there was something that I missed. I don’t have that anymore. I think I fulfilled everything that I wanted to do in the sport of swimming and I’m satisfied now.
How often do you swim now?
Normally about two or three times a week is the most I’ll do, and it’s really just for exercise. The coach today (Friday) said, ‘I’m gonna time you,’ and I said, ‘Well I’m not gonna go fast so you might want to put that back in your pocket.’ I don’t find I have that competitiveness as much as I used to but it’s just fun being in the water and getting exercise in.
Your daughter, Tessa, seems to be following in your footsteps. When did she first join a swim team?
She was in learn to swim with SwimAmerica for a while and they had little swim meets there, too, but she hasn’t been on a team until she came up here to Massachusetts. She’s on Phoenix Swim Club and she goes two days a week. She just turned 8. Maybe soon she’ll want to go three days a week, but for now I think two days is enough. She does dance and she’s also doing lacrosse, so she’ll be able to decide what she wants to do. The other day she had a dance recital and I thought afterward she’d be tired and want to go home, and she’s like, ‘No, Mommy, I brought my swim bag, I want to go swim after.’ I was totally surprised.
Do you enjoy being a swim mom as much as you enjoyed being a swimmer?
I don’t know about that. I praise my mom for all the swim meets she took us to, sitting through hours of practices. I definitely like being a swimmer more so than being a swim mom.