Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life

Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life

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by Dara Torres, Elizabeth Weil

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From legendary Olympic gold medalist Dara Torres comes a motivational, inspirational memoir about staying fit, aging gracefully, and pursuing your dreams.

Dara Torres captured the hearts and minds of Americans of all ages when she launched her Olympic comeback as a new mother at the age of forty-one—years after she had retired from competitive swimming and

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From legendary Olympic gold medalist Dara Torres comes a motivational, inspirational memoir about staying fit, aging gracefully, and pursuing your dreams.

Dara Torres captured the hearts and minds of Americans of all ages when she launched her Olympic comeback as a new mother at the age of forty-one—years after she had retired from competitive swimming and eight years since her last Olympics. When she took three silver medals in Beijing—including a heartbreaking .01-second finish behind the gold medalist in the women’s 50-meter freestyle—America loved her all the more for her astonishing achievement and her good-natured acceptance of the results.

Now, in Age Is Just a Number, Dara reveals how the dream of an Olympic comeback first came to her—when she was months into her first, hard-won pregnancy. With humor and candor, Dara recounts how she returned to serious training—while nursing her infant daughter and contending with her beloved father’s long battle with cancer.

Dara talks frankly about diving back in for this comeback; about being an older athlete in a younger athletes’ game; about competition, doubt, and belief; about working through pain and uncertainty; and finally—about seizing the moment and, most important, never giving up. A truly self-made legend, her story will resonate with women of all ages—and with anyone daring to entertain a seemingly impossible dream.

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Editorial Reviews

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, swimmer Dara Torres became an international fan favorite when she won five medals at the ripe age of 33. Eight years later, Torres would stun the world when the 41-year-old new mom not only returned to Olympic competition but also snagged three silver medals, two of them within approximately half an hour! By the time she left Beijing, she had acquired her 12th Olympic medal, equaling the best record ever for a female swimmer. Age Is Just a Number isn't just a routine self-improvement book by a sports star. Dara's story about how she made her unprecedented comeback has a real-world feel that can't be simulated.

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I’ve been old before. I was old when I was 27 and I got divorced. I was old when I was 35 and I couldn’t get pregnant. I was really old when I was 39 and my father died. But when I was 41 and I woke up in a dorm in the Olympic Village in Beijing, I didn’t feel old. I felt merely–and, yes, happily–middle-aged. “The water doesn’t know how old you are,” I’d been telling anyone who would listen for the prior two years. Though sometimes, I have to admit,
I would think to myself, Good thing it can’t see my wrinkles.
On the morning of the 50-meter freestyle Olympic finals, I set my alarm for six o’clock. I’m a type A person, or as some of my friends call me, type A++. Basically, I’m one of those people who has to do everything I do to the fullest extent of my ability, as fast as I can. When I recently moved houses I didn’t sleep until all the boxes were unpacked and all the pictures hung on the walls. I don’t like to do anything halfway, and I’d set this crazy goal for myself:
to make my fifth Olympic team as a 41-year-old mother. And the truth was I didn’t just want to make the team, either. I wanted a medal. I wanted to win. Along the way, I also wanted to prove to the world that you don’t have to put an age limit on your dreams,
that the real reason most of us fear middle age is that middle age is when we give up on ourselves.
It was a pretty crazy thing to be doing, especially under the circumstances. If you’ve ever had a toddler or watched a parent you adore die, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Young children and dying parents are truly exhausting, and I had one of each as I
made my comeback. But I knew in my heart I could succeed–as long as I left no stone unturned.
The race started at 10 a.m., so I’d worked out my schedule leading up to the race. I needed to drink my Living Fuel breakfast shake at 6:15 a.m. so I’d have time to pack my roller bag–two practice suits, two racing suits, two pairs of goggles, two racing caps, two towels, and my dress sweats, in case I got a medal–before
I caught the 6:45 a.m. bus over to the Water Cube. I’d then do my whole routine–wake-up swim, shower, get mashed (a massage technique done with the feet), do my warm-up swim, get stretched,
and put on my racing suit–all before I headed to the ready room,
where all the swimmers wait before a race. My teammates, I have to tell you, thought that roller bag was the funniest thing in the world. They were all 15 to 25 years younger than me, the ages I
was at my first, second, and third Olympics. (I was already beyond their ages by my fourth.) Their bodies were like noodles, and they all carried their gear in backpacks. But I’d noticed that backpack straps made my trapezoid muscles tense up. Swimming fast, for me, is all about staying loose. So I had a roller bag. If I looked like a nutty old lady–fine.
The Beijing morning was humid and dark when I left the
Olympic Village. All the other swimmers were probably still asleep.
I think that the only other person awake in the Village was Mark
Schubert, the National team coach of the USA Olympic swim3
ming team. Mark had also been my coach at my first Olympics, 24
years ago. And he’d been my coach at Mission Viejo, where I’d gone to high school to train at age 16. I love Mark. He’s like my fairy godfather, constantly dropping into my life at just the right time, giving me what I need, and then disappearing again. That morning he’d woken up in the Beijing predawn to help me prepare for my race. We’d come a long way together. Though he wasn’t my coach in the months leading up to the Olympics, he’d taught me the discipline and the commitment to detail I now so prized. We were now going–literally–one more lap.
I rolled my bag out to the sidewalk as quietly as possible. I didn’t want to wake anybody–partly because, as a mother, I knew the value of sleep. But selfishly, I also wanted my competitors to stay in their beds. The longer they slept, I told myself, the greater my advantage and the more time I had, relative to them, to prepare.
Since my daughter had been born I’d been saying that waking up with a kid in the middle of the night was going to give me an edge at some point. I hoped this was it.
Over at the Water Cube the competition pool was empty, so I
yelled “Good morning!” to Bob Costas, who was broadcasting up in the rafters, found my lane, and dove in. I don’t usually do a wake-up swim in the competition pool, but the 50-meter freestyle is a really strategic race. Time can contract or stretch out. It’s only one length of the pool–just 24 or 25 seconds–but it’s also easy to get lost. If I’ve learned one thing from all my races and all my years, it’s that the Olympics can be disorienting, and the middle of things is where we tend to lose the plot. Part of my plan for the morning was to learn exactly where I was going to be in the water at every stroke of the race. So as I swam I memorized all the landmarks,
the intake jets, where all the cameras were on the bottom of the pool. That way I’d have markers in addition to the lines 15
meters from the start and 15 meters from the end. I’d know when to keep a little energy in reserve, and when to take my last breath and gun for the wall.
More was riding on this race than on any other race I’d swum.
Back in Florida I had a child, Tessa, who’d one day study this race to find out who her mother was. I had a coach, Michael Lohberg,
who’d believed in me before anyone else, who now lay in a hospital bed with a rare blood disorder, fighting for his life. I’d had a father, Edward, whom I’d lost to cancer just as I’d started this comeback,
and who’d wanted so much for me to realize my dreams, and who I felt was with me every day.
And most unexpectedly, at least for me, I had a lot of fans.
I’m not being coy when I say the fans were unexpected. I’m saying they were unexpected because I didn’t yet understand how overcoming perceived odds works–how even just attempting that can inspire people, and how the energy from those people can boomerang back to you, giving you the strength and energy you need to reach your goals. So I was surprised–deeply surprised,
and also grateful–that my dream was contagious. I’ve always been good in a relay, but I’ve never been quite as strong in my individual events. I’ve just never been at my best when I’m swimming in front of the whole world just for myself. But now I had the support of everyone nearing or over 40, everyone who’d ever felt they were too old or too out of shape to do something but still wanted to give it a try. I had everyone who didn’t want to give up.
I just couldn’t let all those people down. I felt they were depending on me almost in the same way my relay teammates did. We were in this together. I couldn’t entice so many women and men into dreaming a little longer and aiming a little higher, and then not win.
Of course, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I wanted to win anyway. I’m pathologically competitive. I hate to lose. That’s just what I’m like. If you and I were in a sack race at a field day,
trying to jump across the grass with our legs stuck in bags, making total fools of ourselves, I’d still want to cross that finish line first.
I’d give it everything I had. But now I wanted to win this race not just for myself. I wanted to win it for everyone who believed–
everyone who needed to believe–that a 40-plus mom could still compete.
At 7:25 a.m. I got out of the pool and walked to the locker room to take a hot shower. The wake-up swim and the shower were both part of an effort to get my core temperature up. Everybody’s core temperature drops during sleep, and that temperature needs to rise if you want to swim really fast. My plan for the remaining two hours before my race was to have my stretchers, Anne and
Steve, mash–or massage–me with their feet, then swim again,
then have Anne and Steve stretch me, and then put on the bottom half of my racing suit, with plenty of time remaining to lie on a massage table in the team area and listen to a bunch of rockers half my age sing a song called “Kick Some Ass.” The mashing and the stretching were critical to my performance. All the other kids in the Olympics might have thought they could do their best by just swimming a little warm-up, pinwheeling their arms a few times and diving in. But not me. I was the same age as a lot of those athletes’ mothers. Michael Phelps had started calling me “Mom”
eight years earlier. I needed every advantage.
Physically, I have to say I didn’t feel great–stiff, still not fully recovered from the prior day’s semifinals. (Okay, let me pause right here and say it: I’m totally fine with aging except for the recovery time. Is it really necessary to take 48 hours to recover from a
24-second sprint?) I also felt sick to my stomach with anxiety. I’m like that, even after all these years: On the day of a big race, I feel like I’m going to throw up. I know it’s part of the adrenaline surge
I need in order to psych up and win. But my relationship to that surge is like an addiction. I run toward it, crave it, can’t live too long without it, and then it makes me feel terrible. That prerace nausea gets me every time. I suppose when I stop feeling it I’ll know it’s time to call it quits and hang up my Speedo for good.
That day at the Water Cube, as my mother came over to wish me luck, and then came back to wish me luck again, I took a few swigs of Accelerade to try to calm my nerves. Breathe, Dara, breathe,
I told myself. It’ll be over in 24 seconds. Of course, Mark Spitz once said the really great thing about being a competitive swimmer is that your career ends quickly. He said the reward for all the long hours in the pool is that you get to retire at 23 years old. Oh, well.
I was not following Spitz’s schedule (though he, too, attempted a comeback at age 41). So I tried to focus instead on what I’d learned at the Olympic Trials, where I’d felt so bad just before my first heat that I was crying in the hall but swam really well anyway:
You don’t have to feel good to swim fast. I must have said it to myself a hundred times: Don’t freak out, Dara. Remember Trials. You don’t have to feel good to swim fast.
Finally, I went down to the team area and lay on a massage table for a while, listening to my iPod and watching the muscles in my quads tighten up. Then one of the coaches told me it was time to go to the ready room, which was a good thing. Because despite all my supposed maturity, for the last 20 minutes I’d been acting like an annoying kid. Every 30 seconds I’d ask: How much longer? Is it time yet? I couldn’t stand the wait. I’d been working toward this moment for two years, or 24 years, or 41 years . . . Let’s just say it had been a long time. I’d done everything I possibly could. I’d assembled the best team. I’d worked hard and smart. Now the only thing that was happening was that my muscles were tightening up.
The ready room is where they put all the athletes just before a race. I hate the place. In the ready room it’s just you and the seven other girls you’re swimming against, and it’s either hear-a-pindrop tense or filled with forced conviviality. When I was younger
I’d sit in the ready room with my Walkman (remember those?),
and then my Discman (remember those, too?), staring at my fingernails,
always keeping an eye on the trash can so I’d know where to run to vomit. That day, on purpose, I left my iPod in my roller bag. But as I ducked my head in to give the official my credentials,
I could see everybody else sitting already, messing with their fingernails,
or with their caps and goggles, looking sick and miserable.
And the room was hot and stuffy.
For my entire career I’d been just like them–enjoying my
Olympics by putting massive amounts of pressure on myself.
Which is to say not enjoying the Olympics at all. But this time I
felt totally blessed. I was at the Olympics. How cool is that? I’d sat with LeBron James and watched Michael Phelps swim. And guess what that’s like? FUN. In just five minutes the eight of us girls were all about to do something incredible: swim in an Olympic final. By pretty much any sane person’s standards, we’d already accomplished something. We were the eight fastest female swimmers in the world. We’d already won. I wanted to enjoy the experience.
I wanted them to enjoy the experience. I knew we were all going out there to try to beat each other, and believe me, I wanted to win. But I felt the occasion called for a joke.
“Anybody else hot? Or is it just me?” I called out to the girls. “I
feel like I’m in menopause.”
I saw a smile creep across the lips of Cate Campbell, the freckly
Australian redhead who up until that moment looked like she was about to meet a firing squad. I knew how she felt: like her whole future depended on the next five minutes. I now was old enough to know that there’s a lot of life that happens outside of the pool.
That she was going to lose loved ones and yearn for things that were outside her control. Swimming is not like real life. You can determine for yourself how hard and how well you train. You can control how you dive, how you turn, how you position your shoulders for your touch. But I knew what Cate was going through. Swimming fast can feel like the most important thing–
the only important thing–in the whole world. I’ve been there,
I’ve felt that. She was 16.
Maybe it was this perspective that caused me to ham it up just before 24 of the most important seconds in my life. Maybe it was nerves. Whatever the reason, I did. With just a few minutes to go before the race, all of us zipped up like sardines in our tight new racing suits, officials walked us down the hall to the rows of chairs under the bleachers. My mantra for the past two years had been to do everything all the other swimmers weren’t doing–that extra vertical kick in practice, those long hours of active recovery–so
I’d have something over them. But now the mom in me came out.
I wanted to take care of everybody. I wanted all these girls to enjoy the event. I wanted them to relax. I knew that Libby Trickett, Cate’s teammate, a really spunky Australian who’d gone into the Games ranked first in the 50 free, had just gotten married. So I asked her if she was going to have kids, and before I knew it, as 17,000 fans sat waiting for us to come out and compete, I was telling them what it’s like to give birth to a child. And not just telling them. I
had my feet up, as if they were in stirrups, yelling like I was in labor, just as I might have if I was sitting around my house yukking it up with my closest friends.
Then it came time to walk out to the blocks for that long, fast lap. When I got to my lane, I dried off my block with a towel, lest
I slip. Then I took off my sneakers and my two T-shirts, and walked to the edge of the pool to splash my body and face. Back at the blocks, I roughed up the skin on my forearms and hands on the block’s surface so I’d have a better feel for the water. Each time,
just before a race, the officials blow a series of whistles–first a bunch of short bursts to warn you to get all your clothes off except your suit, cap, and goggles. Then a long whistle meaning it’s time to get on your block in ready position. After that, the starting signal begins the race.
When I heard the long whistle I took my mark, with my right leg back, my left toes curled over the cool metal edge, staring down my long blue lane. I had just one word in my head, tone,
reminding me to keep my body tight, in a toned position to knife into the water on my start. I knew everybody who dreamed my dream with me was on that block, too. But I also knew, at the starting signal, that I’d be diving into the water alone.

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Age Is Just a Number 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
KristinZ More than 1 year ago
I was a swimmer for many years and I had posters of swimmers on my bedroom walls.and they included Dara Torres. She was a role model to me as kid swimming my heart out to get a college scholarship and she continues to be one now that I am past my prime (well, in retirement I should say.never past my prime, eh?) I got goose bumps watching her in Beijing just as I did watching her in person at the 92 Trials in Indy (I later competed in the same pool).. She is an amazing athlete. I can relate to her on many levels and reading her story, in her own words, brought it to a much different level. I am in training for my first half marathon and let me tell you, after reading her book, I KNOW this is something I can accomplish, as long as I believe in myself. She talks about the stigma behind an "old" athlete is not a limitation of your own body, but a fear or even ignorance in society telling one they are too old to do something. You do NOT have to have been a swimmer (or even an athlete) to relate and gain something from her story. She writes with emotion and honesty and I admire her immensely. Read this book and have a new perspective on things, especially on never letting go of a dream, it's never too late and you're never too old. DARA 2012!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully written and intimate look at a very personal journey. So incredible to see it from the inside out. Dara is shocking and remarkable in her discipline and drive. Highly recommended reading.
Dr_Wilson_Trivino More than 1 year ago
"Just swim", that is all that Dara focuses on when she is in a competition. On her final book tour stop on April 29 at the Carter Presidential Library, Dara shared her thoughts about her latest book, Age is Just a Number. An accomplished Olympic athlete, Dara has surpassed her colleagues by winning an Olympic metal in her forties at the 2008 Olympics in China. She was prompted to write the book because so many folks asked her about one. When questioned on how she came up with the title, she spoke of how every time she was mentioned in the media, her age would be referenced. However, Dara felt that in the water she was ageless. She felt she could reach out to her contemporaries and let them know that regardless of age you can still go for it. However, she has been surprised by how she has really connected with younger girls. The audience was filled with young aspiring athletes and one small girl got so nervous misspoke and asked her "what it takes to become a great singer", invocating a roaring laugh from the audience. Dara without missing a beat went into that "you need to find your passion; hers is swimming and set big goals..even though it can be tough to wake up at four in the morning to work on her craft." A mother of a three year old, Dara used the book to share the ups and downs of her life and the challenges she had dealing with her father, anorexia, and staying competitive in a world that youth is a virtue. No secret to success, just do it.
DawnZH More than 1 year ago
Dara gives us an interesting, insightful and inspiring glimpse into the world of competitive swimming, or any competive sport, for that matter. Nothing is what it appears to those of us merely observing. There is much in the way of blood, sweat and tears that takes place behind the scenes. To say that passion and commitment are required is an understatement. The inspiring part is that Dara, at age 41, was able to compete and win in the Olympics against women less than half her age! A positive, encouraging and pleasant read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dara Torres rocks! A great "hard to put down" story with all of the highs and lows. Also, this book has some really good advice for every female athlete over 40, even if you are not going for gold in the Olympics.
Louise09 More than 1 year ago
Dara Torres does a splendid job of blending honesty, relentless courage and perseverance. At times she is ruthlessly honest with herself and does not hesitate to share that honesty with the reader. Her life-long personal discipline shines through her moments of triumph as well as her times of doubt and near depression. She takes us on a journey to the top with her as her competition changes from 'against others' to just competing against herself. It is a win-win book that I would encourage others to read. We will not all become Olympic champions, but we can all continue to grow and to do irregardless of our age. I boutht the book becaquse one of the things I share with those around me is "age is just a number". When I saw the title of Torres' book, I just HAD to read it. I'm glad I did and now others are reading it as I pass it around to my friends and co-workers. It's a great conversation piece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a former competitive swimmer and now masters swimmer who has followed Dara Torres for most of her competitive career, it was a great read. As someone who may have just learned who she is, I think it is a great read as well. She is a huge inspiration to anyone, in any sport, that wants to get out there and just do it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a biography of Dara Torres. In my class, we are doing this project where we have to read a biography, then dress up as the person you read about and talk about them. I'm a swimmer with an Olympic dream, so this book will be perfect! GET THE SAMPLE FIRST.
L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
Mixed feelings. Having watched Torres numerous times I'm a fan; her spirit and attitude are rather intoxicating. This book is a memoir about her life and aside from offering explanations about what a competitive swimmer must go through there isn't much in the way of inspiration for others. It's rather puzzling that the writing is not more focused especially since a writer is listed on the cover. I found information repeated. The most surprising is Torres had a serious eating disorder, she's been married more than once and her father was never particularly supportive of her swimming. There are pictures to accompany her story. Like any other sport there's surface politeness but athletes want to win and this sport is no different. I was expecting a more confident woman; it sounds as though it might be difficult to be friends with her because she is so competitive. I hope she's able to move past her amazing accomplishments in the pool; still continues to like being in the pool and be proud regardless of what she does next since she did not make into her 6th Olympics.
triathleteVA More than 1 year ago
The book provides a great history of swimming over almost 30 years by a top female swimmer. It covers all the details of training, competition, personalities, etc. associted with elite swimming. It very nicely weaves in the presonal aspects of life that occur along the way and provides an inspiration for athletes that are getting older and dealing with physical and mental challenges of getting slower.
Famos More than 1 year ago
This has to be one of the most inspiring books I have read. Dana lets everyone know that it does not matter the age, but it is about the heart and determination to go after what you believe in. It will challenge you to get off the sofa and go do what has been sitting in the back of your mind! Dana lets us know we can do anything and everything we put our minds to!
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
"Older" is not a popular description in our society, but Dara Torres has turned that idea upside down, inside out and every which way with her inspiring story, "Age Is Just A Number." Sports enthusiasms well know who she is - Torres is the Olympic Gold Medalist who restarted her career at the unheard of age of 41. Not only was she older but she was a new mother and her father was fighting cancer. Eight years prior to this comeback she had retired, thinking that was the end of her swimming career. Not so! We hear, "I've been old before. I was old when I was 27 and I got divorced. I was old when I was 35 and I couldn't get pregnant. I was really old when I was 39 and my father died. But when I was 41 and I woke up in a dorm in the Olympic Village in Beijing, I didn't feel old. I felt merely-and, yes, happily-middle-aged. "The water doesn't know how old you are," How right she is! Water does not know how old we are nor does the Earth nor do other people. For us, the problem is that we know and we gauge our attractiveness and abilities by the calendar. Torres will change minds regarding those assumptions as she candidly discusses doubts, believing in ourselves, perseverance, and really believing we can achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves. If you want to hear a really upbeat true story with lots of good advice, give a listen as narrator Rebecca Lowman tells us just how it can be done. Winner of the 2006 Boston Film Festival and an accomplished actress, Lowman delivers a distinct, listenable reading of one woman's inspiring story. - Gail Cooke
MandyTX More than 1 year ago
I just loved reading about her comeback(s). She is an amazing woman!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading about Dara's life is definitely a roller coaster of emotions. As she points out, there is always something good to counter what is bad. The birth of Tessa followed by the death of her father. Making Beijing, followed by her coach Michael Lohberg, becoming extremely ill. This is the yin and the yang that makes up Dara Torres. She speaks openly about her first marriage to an abusive husband and her attempts to keep peace. Her struggles with infertility as she watched her brothers and sister have kids. And her most triumphant moment when Tessa was placed on her chest for the first time after giving birth. These are just a few of the moments she relates to her fans that make you realize that she's not always Wonder Woman in a Speedo. She also talks of her fears of letting so many down as her story became bigger than life and much more important than she herself anticipated. Dara didn't set out to be a superhero to middle-aged America. But, once she accepted her new role, she embraced it. Throughout her struggles and triumphs she remained focused on her one goal of winning and wanting nothing less. Her ability to handle adversity and still come out on top is what makes this woman so amazing. And throughout it all keeping her sense of humor whether it be discussing her giant swimsuit while pregnant or walking in on the guy in the bathroom while in a rush to get ready for her race in Beijing. The title of 'role model' is used loosely in America but if you were to choose one role model to follow, especially for your daughters to follow, it's Dara Torres. Do yourself and your teenage daughters a favor and make "Age is Just a Number" mandatory reading.
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DonnaES More than 1 year ago
As an amateur endurance athlete I found this so interesting and uplifting. It was enlightening to learn what the swimmers go thru. It just verifies how crazy we all are but wouldn't have it any other way!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago