Sparring with Dara Torres
Tuesday, September 6 2016
Most people know Dara Torres as a fish, or at the very least, the human equivalent of one.
As the first swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games, bringing home 12 medals (four of each kind) and holding the U.S. record in the 50 meter freestyle, she’s also regarded as an athletic phenom, swimming olympic rings around her competitors into her forties. She is one of only a handful of Olympians to win medals in five different games. There’s not many people who would debate just how big a fish she is in the rectangular ponds she’s frequented over the years.
With the most recent games in Rio having come to a close, Torres (who attended for the first time not to compete in the games, but to broadcast the action out in the water) is now looking to make a splash elsewhere: the boxing ring.
“You can’t take a fish out of water, so it’s been a learning process for me,” Torres explains, referencing her training for the upcoming October 5th Haymakers for Hope fight. “Swimming has always been my thing. Boxing is new to me and I’m not in my comfort zone.”
Torres had begun working out at a gym in Needham, Massachusetts and decided to mix up her usual workout regiment by giving boxing a try. While she didn’t set out to get into the ring with anyone at first, she enjoyed the diversity that came with the training, how the aerobic element mixed with strength training. Her trainer, Jess Smith, eventually began training Torres and her friends at Torres’ home, where she set up a workout space with a heavy bag and speed bag. Smith kept bringing up Haymakers and eventually Torres agreed to sign up.
“I’ve sparred about five times now,” Torres told me when we spoke just before the games in Rio began. “It is not easy. I have a whole newfound respect for boxers.”
“After the first time I got hit in the face, I was like ‘I’m not so sure I like this!’” she adds, laughing. “It’s not like I’m super strong or anything, but I just don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m not used to contact sports. I’m just hoping it’s a fair fight and a good show, but also that it’s not something where someone gets hurt.”
“It’s so different from swimming. It’s one thing going to a gym and training with mitts and bags. It’s another thing being in the ring with headgear and gloves and sparring. It’s intimidating, for sure, but we’re doing it for a great cause and I’m excited about it.”
Despite spending more time in Olympic Villages than most, she never had the opportunity to spend much time with any Olympic boxers to absorb their experience and training, aside from watching them from afar, up early and working out in their sweats in the middle of summer. However, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been able to glean some useful advice from someone with valuable experience.
“I work on a show called We Need To Talk for CBS Sports Network with Laila Ali and she’s been giving me some tips here and there. ‘Make sure you get that reach’ is the biggest one,” Torres says. “I’ve told her that while I respected her before, now that I’ve been sparring with someone, I do even more. Facing someone in the ring is not easy.”
I ask her what she thinks her strengths will be when she steps into the ring against her opponent. Will she be the faster one? Stronger?
“My weakness is definitely my feet. I’m not fast at all. I’ve had knee surgeries on both knees and the most recent one, which was a couple of years ago, [left me] missing a little cartilage so I have some knee pain.”
“I think that I’m powerful, but not super quick. I’m in the ring sparring with these kids and they’re fast. I always thought I was fast, but I’m also forty-nine years old. They’re faster. So power, I think, will be my biggest asset.”
Keep an eye out for that power when the Belles of the Brawl take the stage at the House of Blues on October 5th. Dara Torres may be known as a fish, but that night, I wouldn’t bet on her being the one caught by a hook.
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