COLUMBIA — In October of 2009, Olympian Dara Torres, 43, underwent major reconstructive knee surgery. She had her shinbone broken and had new cartilage placed around her kneecap.
At the Missouri Grand Prix on Saturday morning at the Mizzou Aquatic Center, Torres swam for the first time since that surgery.
"It definitely tested my patience (to sit out 16 months)," Torres said. "This was the first surgery where I actually had to listen to the doctor. I mean, you're always supposed to listen to the doctor, but you always kind of push the limits a little bit. But this time I couldn't because it takes about nine months to a year for the cartilage to harden, and if it doesn't, and it falls off, you're basically starting all over again."
Torres, who has competed in five Olympics, has overcome obstacles before. She won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2009 U.S. Nationals just 15 months after giving birth to her first child.
On Saturday, Torres came back strong again, picking up right where she left off in 2009 with a 25.5 second swim in the 50-meter freestyle. The time was good enough to qualify her for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
"I'm not pain free, but I'm like 90 percent better than I was at Rome (in 2009) before I had my surgery," Torres said.
Torres did not perform as well in the finals Saturday night, finishing sixth in 26.13. Fellow US. Olympian Jessica Hardy won in 25.15.
After the Missouri Grand Prix, she will set her sights on the 2012 Summer Olympics, where she hopes to add to the 12 Olympic medals she has already earned.
"I don't want to be that athlete that is on top of the game, and then just goes down really quick," Torres said.
But Torres also said that 2012 will be the last Olympics that she will compete in.
"I think I'll always love the sport of swimming, but I think there has to be a point where you draw that line and say OK, that's it, I had a great career," Torres said. "If you ever see me in a pool again (after 2012), it'll be like hanging out with my daughter or something like that."