Six years have passed since swimming legend Dara Torres last competed in the Olympics, but the California native showed she's still in fine form Tuesday when she joined dozens of young suburban swimmers at Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School.
The event was less of a race than a rally for swimming and good health. The 12-time medalist Torres swam 24 laps against tweens and teens from local swim clubs who split into seven relay teams for the contest.
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Wearing a navy blue swimsuit and a white cap, Torres, 47, kept up a strong and steady stroke in Lane 4 throughout her laps, which measured 600 yards in all.
The kids in the other lanes beat Torres to the finish. They chanted "USA! USA!" as the ex-champion made her final strokes toward the wall.
Afterward, Torres acknowledged swimming 24 laps solo against seven relay teams isn't an easy feat.
But she also admitted she took it easy in the water.
"I wanted them to feel (like) they beat an Olympian," Torres said.
Torres came to Stevenson as part of a nationwide tour designed to raise awareness about meningococcal meningitis, a potentially deadly disease that affected one of Torres' college teammates.
The four-city tour is co-sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur, a Pennsylvania company that manufactures a meningitis vaccine, and the National Association of School Nurses.
Stevenson High was the third stop on the tour for Torres. She wraps it up next week in New York.
Before the swim, Torres posed for photos with each of the young swimmers. They approached her one at a time and in small groups, and she had a smile for each one.
Time and again, Torres greeted the kids, exchanged small talk and smiled for the cameras.
"It's a lot of fun," Torres said of the meet-and-greets. "Some of the shy ones are so cute."
Torres also spoke to the kids about her long Olympic career, which yielded medals in the 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008 Games.
In a small auditorium near the pool, she urged the athletes to listen to their coaches, to forget about the swimmers in the other lanes and to refocus when they get discouraged.
"Setting goals, I think, is a really important thing to do," she said.
Torres was one of three speakers at the event. The others were a school nurse from the Chicago area and a Wisconsin man whose daughter died from meningitis.