At 45, the superstar swimmer has been training feverishly to make her sixth Olympic swim team at London's Summer Games. Her event: the 50-meter freestyle, which is one frenzied lap. The swimmer (and model, TV sports commentator, author, and mother of 6-year-old Tessa, with ex-boyfriend David Hoffman) loves a challenge, but she's had some tough ones thrown her way in the past few years.
In 2009, she underwent major knee surgery for arthritis and had to take off a year to recover. Last year, her coach, Michael Lohberg, whom she adored, died at 61 from a rare blood disorder. And she has found that her bodyas insanely fit as it isdoesn't bounce back from training as fast as it did a few years ago.
So this time around, she's shaking things up and taking a more scientific approach. In her adopted hometown of Coral Springs, Florida, she's assembled a team that includes a naturopathic doctor, a cook ("because it's just me and Tessa, and she wants mac 'n' cheese every night"), a nutritionist, and a pair of therapists who stretch her for two hours post-workout. Recently, she even saw a specialist who analyzed her eye movements and prescribed exercises to improve her motion sickness. Fun and games? Actuallysurprisinglyyes.
Over a dinner of steak and Yukon gold potatoes one night in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which start in late June (if she comes in first or second, she goes to London), the funny, down-to-earth athlete talked about what she eats, how she got those killer abs, and what it's like to share the pool with a bunch of 20-year-olds.
If you compete in London, you'll be the oldest female Olympic swimmer everhow do you feel about that?
You know what? To me, it's an honor. People say, "You must get sick of everyone talking about your age," but it really doesn't bother me.
So it doesn't psych you out to be competing against people half your age?
Not many things psych me out! [Laughs] I just try to have fun. I mean, I definitely have aches and pains that most middle-aged people have. What's funny is that I listen to music before I swim a race and while I train. And I'm surrounded by teenagerseverything is hip-hop for them. So I've really gotten into the hip-hop scene! I'll always have my classic rockthe Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Whobut I've made some other playlists with Kanye West, Rihanna, Jay-Z...
How did changing your weight-training strategy in 2006 help improve your swimming?
My old school of training was the heavier you lift in the weight room, the stronger you'll be in the water, but I felt like I was sinking because I had so much bulk on me. When my strength coach first came to see me, he said, "If you're using every muscle in the pool, why shouldn't you use every muscle in the weight room?" Now my core is involved and the stuff I do really elongates my body, and I don't feel so heavy in the water.
Dara, the entire nation is obsessed with your abs. We want to know your secrets.
OK, the first thing is genetics. My brother and I, our body types are exactly the same: ripped abs, big arms, skinny legs. And the second thing is my training. As far as ab sets, the most I do is maybe 30 reps, but there are always some kind of rotational movements using my core while I'm working out. And I train extremely hard, so that's why my abs are so strongI use my core in almost every exercise I do.