More than 20 years ago Dara Torres earned a reputation as one of the best swimmers in the world; she won gold at her first Olympics in 1984 and went on to score eight more medals at three more Olympics.
She retired after the Sydney Games in 2000, but this 40-year-old has not entirely hung up her goggles.
This month, just 15 months after the birth of her daughter Tessa, Torres competed at the U.S. nationals and won.
"I can't believe that I'm back here doing this again," Torres said. "There are times when I feel 40 and I feel like there's a piano on my back and I can't lift my arms up out of the pool and there are times when I feel like I'm 20 and just flying through the water."
At the nationals in Indianapolis she nailed her 15th national title, but was initially a bit intimidated by the competition.
"I walked on the deck and I thought, 'Oh my gosh these kids are so young.' I mean, I am as old as a lot of their parents," Torres said. "I really felt like was going to throw up before my first race. I really felt like I was 13 again going to my first nationals."
She got over her nerves and won the 100-meter freestyle and beat her own record in the 50-meter freestyle. If Torres makes the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, she will be 41 years old — making her the oldest Olympic swimmer in history.
Becoming a Mother and a Swimmer Again
Torres had retired after the 2000 Olympics, but when she was pregnant in 2006 her doctor suggested swimming to stay in shape.
Once she jumped back in the pool, she couldn't get out.
"I was swimming on the master's teams and I would find myself racing the master's swimmers … so the competitiveness really never goes away," Torres said.
Torres is 10 pounds lighter since she last competed and says she is more flexible since Tessa's birth. But training a 40-year-old body is very different from training that of a teenager.
"My recovery is not as fast as it was. … I don't do as much training as I did," she said. "I swim five days a week, one workout a day."
She no longer lifts heavy weights and focuses instead on building core strength; her full-time stretching trainer works on Torres every day.
And on her off days the former model can be found posing for Speedo or doing magazine spreads for the likes of Women's Health magazine.
"It's a nice feeling when someone my age comes up to me and says, 'You really inspire me to get back into doing this or get back into doing that,'" Torres said. "And in that sense it's nice to be the age that I am and going for a fifth Olympics, hopeful opening the doors for other people who maybe had put an age limit on their dreams."