In pondering retirement on one of several occasions, legendary quarterback Brett Favre said, “It makes me start (wondering), do I still have that magic?” At 43 years of age, a dinosaur in most sports, American swimmer Dara Torres wonders if she too still has the magic. During an appearance on Live With Regis & Kelly, Torres announced her plans to begin training for the 2012 Olympic Games.
In 2008 Torres made the record books when she became the first US swimmer to compete in five Olympics. Amongst her many medals and trophies are 12 Olympic medals that date back as early as 1984.
That’s right, kids – 1984. That was way back in the ole days, when Michael Jackson was alive and the only phones we used were still attached to cords. Oh, and the Olympics were watched on non-HDTV’s, with coverage provided by ABC and the late Jim McKay. And you know Michael Phelps? He wasn’t even born yet. That was when Dara Torres won her first Olympic Gold Medal.
Over the past 26 years - years - Torres has been a recurrent figure in the swimming world. Unlike Favre, who has never departed from football, Torres has taken time off from swimming, only to return stronger and more toned than when she left. When she swam her way to three silver medals in 2008, she stunned fans worldwide. Her sculpted, muscular physique made the covers of numerous magazines, and her Olympic achievements at age 41 propelled her to international stardom, two best selling books, and a public speaking tour.
What motivates athletes such as Torres? In Favre’s case, one can argue that the aging athlete is not comfortable with any life outside of competitive football. Is the same true for Torres? Twice she has retired, only to find herself yearning for the competitive aquatic arena. Or is she fueled by her ego, which is nudging her to embrace the attention and accolades an “old” Olympian receives?
The athletes who typically achieve greatness are those who have often sacrificed much of a normal childhood. For many, the training room and competitive arena become their homes, their coaches surrogate parents. A world outside of the gym, rink, or pool can be unsettling. What is an aging athlete to do after knowing nothing other than decades of being active in a competitive sport?
Athletes younger than Favre and Torres are itching for a chance to take the big stage, and for some this never occurs because there is one less place on a team. Yet Favre and Torres continue to prove that while older; they can legitimately compete with those younger, and often times are better.
Do we pity these athletes who cannot seem to walk away from competition, or do we selfishly celebrate their continued presence and all that it brings?