Dara Torres was just 17 years old, yet to even enroll in college when she won her first Olympic medal: gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.
But while Torres burst onto the international swimming stage at a young age, her career was most notable for its incredible longevity. At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Torres came out of retirement at age 33 to become the oldest woman the win an Olympic swimming medal. (She won two gold medals and three bronze at that Olympiad.)
Then, eight years later, the 41-year-old Torres again came out of retirement. Having given birth two years earlier and with Olympic teammates who jokingly referred to her as “Mom,” Torres captured three silver medals as she became the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games.
“There are a lot of middle-aged women and men I know that contacted me, emailed or stopped me in the street to tell me that I am an inspiration to them and are now doing things that they thought they couldn’t do,” Torres said.
“Age is really just a number and I’m hoping that my age paves the way for other athletes, who maybe think they are too old to do something, to get back in or continue in the sport.”