Olympic medalist Torres leads St. Francis College swim clinic

Olympic medalist Torres leads St. Francis College swim clinic
Photo by Cate Dingley

Former Olympic swimmer Dara Torres led a swimming clinic at St. Francis College last Saturday to help the next generation of aquatic champions take the plunge.

“I was excited to come to Brooklyn,” she said. “When you do something for so long in your life the obvious thing is to give back.”

Starting with the 1984 Los Angeles games, Torres won 12 Olympic medals over a span of 24 years. At the age of 41 she broke an American Olympic record in the 50-meter freestyle while finishing second place by a hundredth of a second at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Torres spoke to fans young and old about her career, her family, and her success at the beginning of the two separate clinics for children ages 8 to 17. She conducted them with the help of Caroline Kuczynski, a Canadian Olympic hopeful, and athletes from the Terriers’ swimming and diving teams.

Torres jokes on Twitter about being so competitive that she races other parents to be the first to pick up her child from school, but cautioned parents from pushing their kids too hard. The competitive spirit is natural in her opinion.

“You can’t learn it and you can’t want it,” she said “It’s either there or it’s not.”

Torres’s fans were thrilled to meet their hero.

“Watching her growing up has been inspirational,” said Tessa Polito, boys’ swim coach at St. Patrick’s School grammar school in Bay Ridge. “I wanted my children and my swimmers to get a chance to see her and hear how inspirational she is. They were thrilled!’”

Polito’s 13-year-old son Brian Polito was impressed by Torres’s longevity in the sport and her desire to keep competing. He picked up a few things from her instruction.

“It was pretty cool to learn about racing and how after all those years she felt the same in her first Olympics as in her last one,” said Brian, who swims for St. Patrick’s and for a local water polo club.

Ten-year-old Jaya Rao-Herel asked Torres about training even when you’re tired. It was something she continued to stress throughout her talk — sometimes you just have to go for it in life.

“It was really fun because she taught us a lot of new techniques that made my swimming better,” said Rao-Herel, who swims with the Holy Name swim team in Windsor Terrace.

One devoted fan is trying to follow in her idol’s footsteps. Juliana Kagami, a St. Francis student who swims the 100- and 200-meter butterfly events for the Terriers, was star-struck meeting her. Kagami was impressed with how Torres changed with the techniques of the times.

“I was taught [to swim] looking forward but it is true when she says that swimming has changed, that now we have to look at the bottom of the pool,” Kagami said. “It’s good to know that I can teach other swimmers the right way.

The clinic was a fundraiser for the St. Francis College, swimming, diving, and men’s and women’s water polo programs. Event organizer and St. Francis Aquatics director Carl Quigley couldn’t have been happier to have someone like Torres there to help out.

“Anytime you can get a person of the caliber of Dara Torres to put on a clinic for young kids, it benefits not only the St. Francis community, but the entire New York City swim community,” Quigley said.

Just keep swimming: Kids practice their strokes.
Photo by Cate Dingley