At the Beijing Olympics this past summer, 41-year-old Dara Torres became the oldest swimming medalist in Olympic history, hauling in three silver medals for Team USA.
That made an even dozen career Olympic medals overall--an astonishing feat by anyone's yardstick.
But for many people, Torres's most memorable moment occurred nowhere near the medals podium. Instead, it came just before the semifinals of the women's 50 meter freestyle when Torres interrupted her own warmup to help another competitor whose swimsuit was torn. When Torres realized the swimsuit could not be repaired, she asked officials for a delay so the swimmer, Sweden's Therese Alshammar, could change.
Torres went on to qualify for the freestyle finals, where she took the silver. Alshammar did not advance. Torres is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for her outstanding sportsmanship, for showing us the power of the human spirit at any age, and her consideration of others
"In the pool we're competitors," Torres told reporters in Beijing. "Out of the pool we're friends."
Torres's act of decency toward another competitor excited a number of sportswriters and bloggers. Many cited her selflessness as one of the highlights of an already spectacular and exciting Olympic Games.
"This wasn't for a teammate—this was for a girl she barely knew," The Bleacher Report's Chad Lamasa wrote online. "To me it was one of the best moments of the Olympics . . . She may have only taken a silver medal in the race, but she definitely has a heart of gold."
Even spiritual leaders took note. "Torres's act was truly selfless," wrote Greg Mackie, A Course in Miracles teacher, wrote on the Circle of Atonement website. "It could have destroyed her own focus--crucial in a short race where competitors are separated by hundredths of a second--and if she had done nothing the Swedish swimmer would have been disqualified, giving Torres one less competitor to worry about.”
Torres's selflessness is matched by her drive and determination. She began competing internationally in 1980--before most of her competitors this summer were even born. She holds several world records, including one set weeks after the birth of her daughter, Tessa, now two years old.
She won four Olympic medals in three Games, and then retired from swimming in 1992, at the age of 25 and worked as an on-air commentator. But the Sydney Games beckoned, and in 1999, she resumed training and came home with five medals--three bronze and two gold.
Having achieved yet another Olympic dream, she retired again. But when the Beijin Olympics came around in 2008. At 41, she required an army of professional trainers to get ready. It was grueling, yet she dug in and focused on the brutal training regimen.
"They may become harder to achieve, but your dreams can't stop because you've hit a certain age or you've had a child," she told Women's Health magazine.