Dara Torres seems to have done everything a bit late: she gave birth at 39 (to now 4-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace) and at age 41 – an age almost unprecedented for female swimmers – she made an historic return to the Olympics – taking home a silver medal in women’s freestyle. We caught up with the former Olympian to chat about life outside of the pool, being a psycho mom, and what her daughter does that makes her feel super guilty.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
I’ve seen too many parents be too pushy with their kids, and then the kids burn out. My parents were so supportive [with my swimming]; they guided me rather than pushed me, and that’s the way I want to be with my daughter.
If you could teach your daughter one life lesson, what would it be?
Don’t put any limits on your dreams.
How do you explain your Olympic career to her?
She understands you win medals at swim meets. She knows I was in the Olympics, but she doesn’t grasp what the Olympics are or the caliber of it. She knows I swim for a living; she says, “Mommy’s fast, Daddy’s smart” because her father’s a doctor. She knows I have to go to the pool and train but she doesn’t really grasp the concept of work.
Do you see a competitive streak in her yet?
Oh, it’s ridiculous. At first I was like, “Yeah, that’s my girl!” but now I’m like, “Oh my God, she’s doing this at three years old.” We’ll walk to the kitchen, and she’ll say, “I want to be first!” and she always has to be the first one done eating. My mom said I wasn’t that bad that young, so I don’t know where it comes from.
How do you teach your daughter at her age about the importance of fitness and body image?
It’s really hard. I have her in five sports, and people think I’m a psycho mom, but do I have her come home and run around outside, or do I have her in an organized sport where she can play for an hour and learn about structure and team sports? It’s showing by example rather than explaining things.
Is she showing any interest in swimming?
She’s been in WaterSafe since late twos, early threes. When it gets warm, she’s a little water bug. But she’s into girly stuff right now: the gymnastics, ballet. I’m letting her do her [own thing.]
What shocked you the most about parenting?
How much you love something. I’ve never been a selfish person, but it’s always been about me: my swimming, my traveling, my work. But when you have a kid you learn more patience – they come first.
What’s been your biggest challenge as a parent?
The guilt about leaving. Tessa will say, “Oh, you’re going away again?” as I pack my bags. I’ll always feel guilty about that, but you have to find a balance that works with you and your child, and I’ve found a decent balance.
What do you do together when it’s just you and her?
Our favorite things are mani-pedis. When I used to go, she’d sit on my lap or I’d read to her, but then one day she said, “I want one.” It’s the only time that girl’s ever sat still in her life.
What’s your favorite meal to make for her?
This kid is the most bland, pickiest eater. Chicken fried rice, macaroni and cheese, noodles with butter. The only vegetable she likes is asparagus.
What do you for “me” time?
Everything I do is for my swimming or my daughter, but every once in a while, I’ll get a facial.