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Olympic swimmer Dara Torres talks motherhood and more

Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, recently attended an event

Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, recently attended an event in Manhattan to raise awareness for meningitis. (Credit: Dara Torres)

Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, entered her first international competition at 14 years old. By the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, Torres became the oldest swimmer to compete. In total, she's competed in five Olympic Games and has won 12 medals in her entire career. Now, she's an author and a mom to 8-year-old daughter, Tessa.

Recently, Torres, as part of the Voices of Meningitis organization, attended an event at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. I was able to catch up with her about her involvement in this organization, motherhood, balancing it all and more.

Q. What inspired you to help increase awareness about meningitis?
As a mother, I can't imagine the grief one feels after losing a child. Therefore, I want to do what I can to raise awareness and help prevent meningococcal meningitis from taking another young person's life. Interestingly, a national survey found that more than two in three mothers have little to no knowledge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendations for prevention of meningitis, a disease that although rare, can potentially kill in 24 hours. The CDC advises that a child receive one dose of the vaccine at age 11 or 12, followed by a second vaccination at age 16.

Because there is lack of awareness, I'm visiting communities across the country where I will swim 24 laps to symbolize how quickly the disease can potentially take a life and encourage parents to talk with their child's health care provider to make sure their child is up-to-date with all of his/her vaccinations. I also want to encourage parents to visit, VoicesofMeningitis.org to learn more information about how they can protect their children from this disease.

Q. You started competitively swimming at 8 years old. What was it like balancing training and schoolwork?
I found that I was able to apply the same great qualities that I learned from swimming -- hard work, dedication, sacrifice and time management -- to my schoolwork, which made it easier to balance the two. My senior year of college when I wasn't swimming, my grades weren't as good, and I think that is because I wasn't focused on swimming, so I lacked focus in the classroom as well.

Q. Now as a mom, how do you balance your work and family life?
It's never easy. There's always the feeling of guilt when I travel for work, and I feel I'm not always there for my daughter and step kids. The key is to find the right balance that works for you. It's different for everyone, so I find inspiration in other working parents who show me that it is possible to do what you love and still be a good parent.

Q. What was it like to compete in the Olympics?
It's an unbelievable feeling that is indescribable unless you've been there. If you think about it, it's the one event where all the best athletes in the world compete every four years. When you know that you're going up against the best of the best, there is a lot of pressure but there's also an indescribable feeling of honor to be competing against the best in the world.

Q. Is Tessa into swimming?
Yes, she is into swimming, but she is also into dance and some other activities. She swims about two times per week and really enjoys it.

Q. What's up next for you?
I'm looking forward to more activities with the Voices of Meningitis ambassador. I'm also looking forward to continuing my career as a motivational speaker, traveling the country giving talks and trying to inspire people.

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