Dara Torres was the first U.S. swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games and she came out of retirement twice to do so. She’s a 12-time Olympic medalist, earning hardware at every Games she competed in: 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2008. Torres, 49, is a co-host of We Need to Talk on the CBS Sports Network and lives in Boston with her 10-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twin stepkids. She’s had psoriasis for more than 20 years and is working with Celgene and Otezla’s Show More of You campaign ahead of World Psoriasis Day on Saturday. Torres talked to the Cut about getting massages when she had skin plaques, life after an eating disorder, and why working out is her sanity.
How I start my day: I get up with the kids at 6:30 and I like to have some cereal with yogurt. I usually have SmartStart or Special K [Torres is a Kellogg’s brand ambassador] and I mix in yogurt instead of milk, so it makes it a little more filling. I have hot tea, juice, and a piece of fruit — like a banana or an apple or an orange. Some mornings I’ll have eggs, it all varies.
How I like to sweat: I really try to mix it up. I take spin classes, I swim probably one or two times a week, I do strength-training once or twice a week. I’m, like, addicted to The Bar Method, I think that’s really a great workout. I box two times a week. If I really want to chill, I do yoga. It depends what kind of mood I’m in and if I need to de-stress or if I just want to have a nice, mellow workout. I always have to be doing something, I can’t just sit still. Exercise helps with that, it’s a very important tool in my day.
On hosting workout parties: I have a little gym in my house where I have a heavy bag and a speed bag. The trainer comes and it costs the same if it’s just me or if I invite friends, so I invite a bunch of friends and we blast the music and we do an hour-long boxing workout with TRX and push-ups and abs. They love coming over.
How I look at food: I had an eating disorder in college [Torres swam at the University of Florida] and I was always so afraid of foods after that and for many years. I’m very much about not keeping certain foods out of my life, but being proportional about it. Some friends had people over for dinner recently and I brought the dessert. I made chocolate-chip Bundt cake. My husband had a piece and I took some of his.
On being a pro swimmer with a skin condition: Right before the ‘92 Olympics, I started to notice the red flaky patches on my elbows and my back and I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe I got poison ivy. It was a little bit embarrassing considering that I swim and my business suit is my swimsuit. I got it worse when I was getting ready for a big event — I would get stressed out and it would flare up. I started to put two and two together and I finally got diagnosed.
When I’d get massages or rubdowns before meets, they would kind of go around it. I’d have to say, “This is psoriasis, it’s not contagious, just so you know,” and then they’d be fine with it. I felt like I had to explain to people when they would see it or if they’d touch me, because they thought they were going to have it. As I got a little older it’s like “Well, whatever. If I’m in a swimsuit and I happen to have psoriasis, so be it. I have flare-ups when I stress out and I know I need to de-stress so I exercise and then I feel better”
On two-a-days: I did Bar Method this morning. Later, I’ll pick up my daughter from school and I take her about 40 to 45 minutes away to swim practice. There’s a gym nearby and I’ll either go on the spin bike or work out for 45 minutes or I’ll go get some dinner.
My friends think I’m nuts. But Bar Method was an hour and then tonight I’ll go on the bike for about 45 to 50 minutes — that’s less than two hours. When I was training, I was doing four to six hours a day. And I can always be like, “All right I’m done, I don’t want to do any more.” I couldn’t do that before.
How I end my day: Chill time is about 9 o’clock after my daughter’s in bed and then I just want a little TV and go to sleep. I go to bed around 9:30 or 10. It was hard for me to learn just to go to sleep after I retired — before, I was ready to crash — but now that I’m running around with the kids and I get my one or two workouts in a day, I’m still pretty tired by the time bedtime rolls around.
On talking about body image with her daughter: One day she asked me, “Am I fat?” And I’m like “What? No, you’re not fat.” That just came up once. It was maybe in the last six months and she’s 10. I was kind of shocked about that.
What it’s like to raise a daughter who does sports: I have no expectations about whether Tessa will be an athlete or not. I just want to make sure that she’s always doing some type of activity after school. she swims three days a week, and she wants to do gymnastics again after watching it in Rio. I’m all about giving the kids a brain break because they’ve been in school all day and doing something kind of physical and fun and then getting back to their homework.
How wellness has changed for me: It’s about feeling good and looking good, but feeling good first. I used to be in the psyche where “I have to work out every day, if I don’t I’m going to gain weight.” I think a lot of women go through that. And now my thought process is more so that I like to get my workout in because it relieves stress and it makes me feel better as a whole. And the benefit of that down the road is that it makes me look better, too.
This interview has been condensed and edited.