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Dara Torres

Dara Torres

The best thing of all is that I have my quality of life back.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres is arguably the fastest female swimmer in America. Since her first international swimming competition at age 14, Dara has proved that she is far from your average athlete. She is the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games and has won a total of 12 Olympic medals in her career. In 2008 Dara captured the hearts and minds of people of all ages when she launched her comeback as a new mother at the age of 41 – eight years since her last Olympics when she retired from competitive swimming.

Dara discovered her talent and passion for swimming at a young age. She proved that she was far from your average athlete when she broke her first national record at age 12. She carried her success to the University of Florida where she earned the maximum 28 possible NCAA All-American swimming awards. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Dara became the oldest swimmer to compete in the Olympics. When she took three silver medals – including the infamous heartbreaking 50-meter freestyle race where she missed the Gold by 1/100th of a second – America loved her all the more for her astonishing achievement and her good-natured acceptance of the results..

My Story

“When I decided to make a comeback for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing at age 41, 6 years after competing in my 4th Olympics in 2000, I started experiencing knee pain in my left knee. I had had a couple meniscus tears (both lateral and medial) and just figured I needed a clean up.  So in January of 2008 Dr Joe Chalal (in Florida) scoped my knee 6 months before our US Olympic trials.  He said I was a grade 1-2 of cartilage loss and to be careful with my dryland training, which I was.

In the summer of 2008 I competed in my 5th Olympics in Beijing, having won 3 silver medals.  When I got back to the US I decided to train for 1 more year so I could try and go to World Championships in Rome in the summer of 09. Halfway through that training (and about a year after the scope before Trials), I had another scope because of even more excruciating knee pain. Dr Chalal saw that my cartilage loss deteriorated to a grade 4.  My knee was constantly filled with fluid. When I went to the World Championships in the summer of 09 I could barely get out of the pool because my knee hurt so bad, I couldn’t bend down to pick up my daughter and walking down stairs was a huge challenge and very painful. Dr Chalal recommended I see Dr. Tom Minas who specializes in Cartilage transplants.

As an athlete, the last thing you want is an injury to dictate the end of your career.  An athlete always wants to finish their career on their own terms. When I met with Dr Minas in the fall of 2009, I had two options, but only one that was an option for me. They were knee replacement or cartilage transplant. Because I wasn’t sure I was finished with my swimming career I chose the cartilage transplant.

When Dr Minas scoped my knee to see the damage and retrieve the cartilage cells, he noticed my knee was much more damaged than the MRI showed.  In addition to an osteotomy and an ACI, he also had to put plugs in my knee. Although there was some pain post op, I only had pain meds for a couple days post op and then switched to Tylenol.  I hired a trainer who thinks outside the box but stayed within the limits Dr Minas prescribed.  I was at 90 degrees ROM 4-5 days post op and immediately started using a compex machine to help prevent atrophy (in addition to the CPM and Game Ready).  2 weeks post op I was in the water walking laps in a pool (water chest high) to get my correct gate back when walking on land. Within 8 weeks my knee was feeling much better than it did pre surgery. Within a year I was back in the water training for the 2012 Olympics.  At 45 years old I missed making the team by .09 but there’s no way I could have even considered training for a 6th Olympics if I had not gotten an ACI because my knee feels the best it’s felt in years. My knee wasn’t my enemy with not making that Olympic team, age was!

The best thing of all is that I have my quality of life back. I was able to get back to the activities I love most, skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, spinning, boxing and the list can go on and on. But the most important thing for me was I was able to bend down and pick up my daughter again, something I couldn’t do before surgery. It’s not an easy surgery, and you have to have a positive frame of mind for the physical therapy, but I would never wish the pain I had in my knee on my worst enemy before I had the surgery. Now it’s as if I never had a knee problem in my life, the only giveaway is a scar on my kneecap.