July 7, 2008— -- At 6 a.m., five days a week, Dara Torres's alarm clock rings and she begins her day, juggling her roles as mother and Olympian. After playing with her daughter, Torres hits the pool at 8 a.m. for a two-hour water workout.
At 41 years old, Torres, a new mother, has pushed past swimmers half her age and exceeded all expectations, setting a new U.S. record time of 24.38 in the women's 50-meter freestyle semifinal at the Women's Olympics Trials in Omaha, Neb., where she qualified to compete in two individual events in the Beijing Olympics.
After her first appearance at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Torres became known as one of the best swimmers in the world, winning a gold medal at the age of 17. Since then, she has earned eight more medals in her career.
"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 there are times when I feel like I'm 20 and just flying through the water."
One can't help but wonder how Torres was able to capture an Olympic spot for the fifth time after giving birth to her 2-year-old daughter, Tessa. She is the first U.S. swimmer to qualify to compete at five Olympic Games.
Torres's triumph raises the question of whether practice really does make perfect, and if she has tapped into a fountain of youth in the pool.
It takes a village to keep the middle-aged mom motoring like any Olympian. Traditionally, a woman of Torres's age would be at a significant disadvantage against her much younger competitors, but her training accommodates for these weaknesses.
After her morning water workout, Torres meets with her strength coach for an hour-and-a-half, until around noon.
"He's the best. I get my muscles from him," Torres told ABC News.
Her workout is a personalized routine, using medicine balls and pulleys to keep her lean and strong. She is 15 pounds lighter than eight years ago, and says she's stronger and more cut.
After lunch, two full-time personal stretchers push and twist Torres's body for two hours. The resistance training is what Torres calls her "secret weapon" as she seeks to improve flexibility, which tends to decrease with age.
"It's all about recovery for me at my age at 40," she said. "I mean, these kids can go do their workout, and come back that afternoon and bounce back and be fine, not hurt or sore or feel heavy in the water. It's much different for me."
"In 2000, we had sort of a running joke that I'd call her mom because I was 15 and she was, what, almost 30 or over 30," joked six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps.
In order to keep her body feeling young, Torres gets a massage three times a week and sees a chiropractor regularly. The support team costs her nearly $100,000 a year.
Later in the day, Torres hops back in the pool, not for extra laps, but for 'Mommy and Me' swim class with Tessa. As she sings in the pool with her daughter, Torres is a reminder to middle-aged athletes everywhere that dreams don't have an expiration date.
"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, hopefully opening the doors for other people who maybe had put an age limit on their dreams."