Meeting Dara Torres
Dara Torres is exhausted. The five-time Olympian was up at dawn doing satellite interviews to promote Big Milk, and her new book. She’s been awake since 4 a.m., answering the same questions repeatedly, and now she’s gamely meeting with us so we can ask them again.
We’re a handful of mom bloggers, most of whom have known each other — or known of each other — for years. We’re talking shop and cracking jokes beside an enormous public pool when Dara emerges. Her swimsuit says “Love 2 Swim” on the front, and there’s a prolonged moment of confusion about how we should greet her. Are we supposed to greet her?
We’re here, courtesy of Hewlett Packard, to observe an Olympic Mom in Action. She’s just like us! With the baby? And the nine Olympic medals? And the muscles that look like they originated in a quarry?
Hewlett Packard believes that we are all women who use technology to simplify our lives, and in this moment we don’t disappoint. We’re pulling out our digital SLRs to photograph Dara, grabbing our phones to Twitter about Dara, but for the most part no one is saying hi to Dara. No one is even making eye contact with Dara. After a few minutes of hopeful glances our way, she finally turns to her handlers. “You just want me to do a couple of laps?”
It occurs to me that this would be a nightmare scenario for me, but Dara is handling it with grace. She is standing alone and exhausted in a swimsuit before a group of women, all of whom are mostly ignoring her while surreptitiously checking out her body.
Her body is accomplished, my friends. Breathtaking.
Of course, the grace has come with practice, Dara has been checked out before. How many of us hang out in our swimsuits on national TV? In the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition? On the pages of Maxim? Dara and I are not from the same planet when it comes to bathing suit nightmares. I’m guessing hers involve more pressing matters than what a bunch of bloggers think about her thighs.
People, her thighs are terrible with power.
She dips one toe in the water and shivers. “It’s cold,” she says, smiling back at us over her shoulder. “I hate it when it’s cold.”
Dara has two smiles, one that’s open and friendly, and another that’s ambiguous, the type of smile that’s particularly confounding to men in their early twenties. The latter suggests that she’s amused, but perhaps only because she thinks you’re full of shit. The overall impression is happy, but skeptical, and so I like her.
She jumps in the water, and swims quietly back and forth. There’s a charming old lady in the pool who calls out, “You’re more beautiful than Esther Williams!” Because this lady is the only one bold enough to approach, Dara jokes with her for quite awhile about exercise and aging, and they mug together, flexing for our cameras. This situation becomes slightly less charming, but much more amusing, when the lady chases Dara into the locker room to ask her increasingly personal questions while she showers. This too, Dara handles gracefully, she seems also to have had practice with fans who have boundary issues.
After the brief swim, Dara leaves with the group for lunch at an upscale sushi restaurant. She asks if there’s fish in one of the rolls. I say, “Crab, I think.” She turns to the next tray. “Are you allergic?” I ask. “I don’t really like fish,” she says. I’m surprised by this, as though spending half your life in water should somehow impart a craving for halibut.
In my few minutes of interview time, I ask what’s left on her life list. She looks perplexed. “What do you mean, life list?” Well, what does she still want to do? She’s an Olympian, an author, are there any smaller things she hasn’t gotten to yet? “You know, someone else asked me this, and I don’t really have a bucket list or anything,” she says. Not even anything little, like having an ice cream with your kid? “Like before I die? That’s kind of morbid,” she laughs. “I mean, I assume I’ll be around for all that stuff. I’m trying to enjoy everything right now, take those things day by day.” Well, you must have goals though, I stutter. “Yeah. Right now, I’m training and swimming for world championships.” Ah! Of course. The swimming. I guess that does count as a goal if you’re an “Olympian” or whatever. I refrain from telling her that I like fruit, and am hoping to one day do a pull up. Maybe another time.
After our interviews, someone asks what kind of T.V. she watches. It turns out Dara is a Rock of Love devotee. Suddenly, any self-consciousness at the table evaporates. There’s little more endearing to a group of bloggers than confessing you like crappy reality TV. Dara Torres is a sister.
Conversation turns to Dancing with the Stars, and she admits she considered joining the cast this season. Dear god. You have to do that, I say. “Tell my agent!” she says, and cuts her chin upward in his direction. “Evan!” He looks up from his phone. “She says I should have done Dancing with the Stars.” “Hey!” he says. “I wanted you to do it. You were the one giving me all that crap about spending time with your kid.” She laughs.
“Can you dance?” I ask. “No.” She says. “I’m terrible. I just didn’t want to get voted off first.” “Nah,” I say. “You’re too America’s Sweetheart for that.”