Saturday, July 12, 2008

50 Meter Freestyle

I've been following the story of Dara Torres, the 41-year-old woman who will be the oldest swimmer ever to compete in the Olympic Games when she goes to Beijing in a few weeks. She's had many ups and downs in her swimming career and is now making her third return from "retirement" to try for one more Olympic medal (she already has nine).

I can't help but feel a certain empathy and kinship with her. I can totally understand her drive and relate to her determination and motivation. What I can't quite get imagine is spending $100,000 a year to maintain a posse of people to make it to the end goal. (She has three coaches, two stretchers, two masseurs and a chiropractor, and works with them all just about every day). But in a way, I feel like I'm running along a bit of a parallel pathway-- pushing to get ready by a specific date, and urging along a body that might not share the same desire to work so hard.

But things are going well in my own little Olympic training camp. I'm able to work quite a bit in the studio now, in pointe shoes and sometimes even without holding on to anything. It all feels less and less foreign every day. What's weird is how different my right and left sides are now-- my entire right leg is still just weaker than my left. And this is despite a pretty well-designed physical therapy and cross-training routine! I can't imagine how off I would feel if I had just sat around and waited to get my cast off. But at the same time, it's true that all those exercises are just a placeholder to keep enough basic strength going to prevent me from toppling over while I try to get the fine-tuned, ballet-specific strength and coordination back. On the one hand, certain things are better than before, just because when I'm in regular rehearsal/performance mode there's no time or energy left over for that much adductor, hamstring, or turnout strengthening. So now, because I've been putting so much attention into those things over the past several weeks, I do feel a certain "brute strength" that is gratifying. But, my poor little foot has lost so much tiny musculature, and there is such bogginess in the ankle joint, that it just doesn't quite want to obey my commands. It's learning, but a little reluctantly. And my toes... they're softer than a baby's bottom. But to look on the bright side, as my callouses disappeared so did my corns.

There's a little video of Dara Torres explaining some of her stretches here, along with the New York Times article that was so fascinating to me:

So when I start feeling like this is ridiculously impossible and I'll never get back to where I was before, I'll think of all those Olympic athletes pushing for something right around the same time I'll be, with luck, getting close to being back with my colleagues and friends, putting together next season's ballets. For the moment I'm putting my pride aside and taking my little baby steps forward every day. I am definitely grateful to have the beehive of activity that is the summer course going on at the studio right now. It's helpful to have people around, to be working in the company of others, even though it's such a solitary, individual pursuit--- and the dancers I'm surrounded by are-- ahem--- a little younger than I am. But we're all very driven, that's for sure!


  1. I have nothing but awe for any athlete who makes it to the Olympics, at any age. This requires dedication beyond what most of us can manage, certainly. Over the course of my adult life (which has been going on for quite some time now...) I have spent time in sports like running and swimming, and a fair amount of time in gyms and gym-style workout classes. In the gyms, especially, I see very accomplished athletic people stretching with bent knees, bent backs and very limited range of motion. This is not because they are injured or in some kind of retraining, but because they have no idea of the kind of strength and range of motion that dancers take as a given. I think it's the dancers who are even more exceptional than the Olympic athletes, because they use their phenomenal "fitness" to make art. Unlike the athletes, whose goal is to be the strongest, or the fastest, these goals are the baseline for dancers -- now they have to enact the music, or tell a story, or present a mood. I could be wrong, but I bet there are few if any Olympic athletes who could tell you about the little muscles in their feet!

  2. I agree with you, Susan. Dance is unique in the extremes we require ourselves to push to. Extreme flexiblity, but major strength has to support it. That's what the orthopedic surgeon who repaired my ankle (and the other ankle three years ago!) marveled at, and took to heart as he strove to give me what I needed back from my feet. Strength at such extreme ranges is just not a part of other sports. Except what about gymnastics? They are sure flexible, and strong. The difference there is that they can show how hard they're concentrating!
    Thanks for your support and comments, Susan. I appreciate it.