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Posts Tagged ‘Dara Torres’

I recently had the unique opportunity to interview a pioneer who has dedicated her career to bringing a voice to women’s sports, Jane Schonberger. Jane is the founder and “Chief Trailblazer” for Pretty Tough, a #1 site for female athletes and fans of women’s sports.

Geared toward young girls and their growing desire to play sports, Jane established the Pretty Tough (PT) brand to demonstrate that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard can be strong and can co-exit. Not only does PT do an excellent job of conveying this message to an audience who needs to hear it the most, but the site also has some of the best comprehensive, up-to-date coverage of women’s sports available.

I am a strong supporter of this site and this company, and I wish Jane the best of luck in her future endeavors. (You might see me guest blogging for PT in the future).

Check out the below interview. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I have. Thank you, Jane, for your inspiration and taking the time to speak with me.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and your role at Pretty Tough.

(JS) After a successful career as content developer and entertainment/brand marketing executive, I wanted to focus my attention on something I really cared about. I have two teenage daughters – both athletes – who are my role models.  I wanted to create a brand that spoke to them – and other girls of their generation – demonstrating that a woman’s femininity and desire to play hard and be strong can co-exist.

I teamed up with friends and colleagues that I’d worked with at Disney, Fox and other studios to develop and market the brand. I serve as the Chief Trailblazer but I have help from a talented group of writers, designers, consumer product gurus, licensing professionals, athletes and coaches.

(MH) Have you ever played sports? If so, which sports and how have they had an impact upon your current career and involvement with Pretty Tough?


(JS) As a kid I mostly played sports on a recreational level. I played tennis and swam competitively for a couple years but wasn’t a super serious athlete. The impact on my adult life comes primarily from lessons learned about goal-setting, perseverance and mental toughness.

Today I still play tennis and swim – I also love to hike and bike – and I play basketball on a Moms League at our local park.

I’m also an avid spectator – one of my daughters is an elite level soccer player, the other is a fencer – and I love going to youth sports competitions as well as college and professional sports events.

(MH) Tell me a little bit about the background of Pretty Tough (the book) and how the Web site and sports blog evolved from there. Does Liz Tigelaar have any continued impact on the site?

(JS) One of our early goals when we established Pretty Tough was to publish a series of books that featured young female athletes. We wanted stories about pushing limits and busting stereotypes – e.g. the popular jock can just as easily be a girl as a guy.

Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers, shared our vision and bought the series. Pretty Tough was the first book. Playing with the Boys was the second in the series and we’re working on the third and fourth books now.

Pretty Tough novels illustrate the life of female athletes in a way that’s never been done before. We wanted to show the grittiness and sweat that athletes must endure to be the best they can be. The books also delve into the lives of the athletes—their friendships and romances—stuff that appeals to girl readers.

We created the Pretty Tough book series because we love to read, and as teens, we could never find good books with a female athletic main character. We hope readers can identify with our characters and see how they deal with a lot of the same issues teens face today.

Author/screenwriter Liz Tigelaar was brought on board because she supports girls in their quest to be both strong and tough athletes without losing their sense of girlie-ness and femininity.  She loved the idea of writing books about teenagers for teenagers that sends a positive message and she’s done a terrific job capturing the voice of our characters.

(MH) I noticed there is a PT Team. I’m curious, how did this group of people come together? How did you find so many voices to represent so many different sports?

(JS) We developed a sponsorship/ambassador program last year to recognize girls in diverse sports. We have an application process and girls on our team benefit on a variety of levels.  PT Team members get exposure on our site and via our marketing campaigns; they receive a free cap and shirt, stickers, and other promotional material. They also earn discounts on products purchased through our online store and commissions on sales generated by their efforts.


(MH) In my opinion, Pretty Tough covers sports better than many other resources out there. Who is in charge of updating and keeping track of all the latest female sports news? How do they do it?


(JS) Given our limited staff, the task of keeping the site up-to-date is my responsibility. We work with a talented group of girls and women who contribute material specific to their sport and occasionally assign articles we think will be of general interest.

We’re always looking for new writers and experts and want to provide a forum for all female athletes so hit us up if you think you have something to contribute.


(MH) I noticed there is a “Life & Style” section to the site. What is the purpose of this section, and do you think that section is important in order to attain viewers?


(JS) At our heart, we are a lifestyle brand and I think it’s important for girls to understand how sports and leading active lives are core to a healthy lifestyle. By profiling certain personalities and depicting popular culture, we are essentially connecting the dots and demonstrating how sports and sports themes impact our lives positively on a daily basis.

(MH) How does Pretty Tough profit from the site?


(JS) The site was originally established to develop brand awareness for Pretty Tough and serve as an online shopping destination for Pretty Tough products. It has since evolved into a marketing/advertising vehicle for complementary companies as well.


(MH) I was once told by a female sports blogger that a main reason women’s sports publications such as Sports Illustrated for Women have fizzled out over the years is because they can’t compete with the fashion and consumer magazines and publications, and there is limited interest in the sports news alone. What do you think about this?


(JS) I think that print publications in general are finding it difficult to compete with the internet and other content delivery options. Women’s sports magazines just happened to be at the forefront of pubs experiencing financial difficulties. The current trend is in niche content and given the targeted demographic, I think marketers will find women’s sports sites a more cost-effective way to reach their audience.


(MH) I’ve written about this a few times on my blog, but something that really is annoying to me is that male sports bloggers often only cover female sports when the participant is “hot” or attractive. Have you seen this or come across this? What are your thoughts on male sports bloggers?


(JS) Objectifying female athletes is a favorite pastime of many male bloggers. It’s obvious that “hot” or attractive personalities are going to garner more media attention (whether it’s David Beckham or Amanda Beard) but bloggers only interested in T&A are abhorrent. I love to see female athletes in the spotlight but it’s important to recognize their athletic talents and achievements as well as their physical attributes.


(MH) If you look back to the WNBA fight that happened a few months ago, why do you think that was so successful in grabbing so much attention?


(JS) Although it might not have been the kind of attention the WNBA wanted, the mini-brawl did shine the spotlight on the players momentarily. Female athletes are just as competitive as men and when pushed to the edge they are obviously capable of exhibiting the same lack of control.  The bigger question should be: Now that the women have shown they can fight like the NBA players – can they get paid the same as the guys too?:-)

(MH) Since I started covering the Olympics this year, my site traffic jumped. There seems to be a strong interest during the Olympics which fizzles out over the year. Have you seen this as well? What are your thoughts about the Olympics and its ability to generate an interest in female sports?


(JS) With all of the media hype and money spent on the Olympics, it’s no surprise that interest in all sports was heightened during the event. Athletes such as Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richardson, Dara Torres, Kerri Walsh and Misty Misty May-Treanor received well deserved attention. Equally important was a focus on athletes like fencer Mariel Zagunis, pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski and martial artist Diana Lopez. Hopefully interest in them and other female athletes will continue.

(MH) What do you think about women’s softball being eliminated for the London games? Do you think there’s a chance to bring it back?


(JS) Softball’s elimination from the 2012 Games sucks and since the basis of the IOC’s decision was nebulous at best, I think there’s a good chance they’ll reconsider for the 2016 Games.

(MH) It seems there is a large disconnect between the millions of girls and women (through college) who compete in sports on a daily basis and the few of us who cover and follow women’s sports as adults (after college). What do you think about this? Do you think there is a market out there for adult females who want to learn about and follow women’s sports?


(JS) I’m sure there is a market for adult females who want to follow women’s sports – albeit a small one compared to the male market. At PrettyTough.com we try to focus not only on the sports but also on the lifestyle aspects. Our audience is one that lives a “sports-inspired life” and is also interested in the health, beauty, and entertainment aspects of athletics.

(MH) What do you think is essential in capturing this market? What is holding it back from taking off right now? Why aren’t advertisers interested and investing (i.e., Sports Illustrated for Women got dropped a few years back)?


(JS) As mentioned before, niche content and a targeted demographic provide marketers with great opportunities. The cost of producing and distributing a magazine is significant but there are a number of alternative methods for delivering content that provide marketers and advertisers with cost-effective solutions. Companies seriously looking at the bottom line recognize that women involved in sports and living a healthy lifestyle are a valuable demographic with enormous spending power and they should be finding efficient ways to reach them.

(MH) What do you think the future of women’s sports will be? Do you think we’ll generate more attention, or do you think it has leveled off?


(JS) I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as college sports has exploded in the past 20 years, women’s sports will be the next huge growth area. College basketball games used to be played in empty arenas  – the first nationally televised game wasn’t until 1968 (UCLA vs. Univ. of Houston). Today there are entire cable networks devoted to college sports and they’re big business for all involved. Women’s sports will follow a similar trajectory.

— I’d like to thank Jane Schonberger again for taking the time to speak to me. Her words and mission at Pretty Tough are critical in our ongoing fight to bring a voice to women’s sports online.

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Dara Torres clinched the silver medal in the 50m freestyle event on Sunday, losing by 0.1 seconds to Britta Steffen of Germany. “Holy crap” is the only thing that came to mind when I saw that finish. She exited the pool with watery eyes. She deserves nothing but congratulations for her efforts this year, and she was successful in her efforts to steal earned attention internationally as the oldest woman to compete in the Olympics. She brought home three three medals from Beijing.

In the semifinals, Torres showed great sportsmanship as she held the race when Sweden’s Therese Alshammar tried to rectify her torn swimsuit. Torres warned officials to wait. I guess wisdom really does come with age and experience. I wonder how many other Olympic athletes would hold the race for a competitor.

Also, I read this morning on Women Play Sports that our U.S. Women’s soccer team is headed to the finals after beating Japan, 4-2.

The US will be facing Brazil, who beat Germany earlier today by a score of 4-1.

“The US has a chance to win their third gold medal ever in women’s soccer. They’ve had much success here in the Olympics, only losing one gold medal final. The US has a chance to show their soccer dominance to the rest of the world, once again,” Andrew said.

It’s going to be exciting to watch that game. It will be broadcast live on NBC at 9am on Thursday.

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Last night, according to ESPN, Dara Torres won the 50m freestyle heat with ease, finishing at the wall with a time of time of 24.27 – 0.15 better than anyone else.

Swimming is hard enough, especially the 50 meter freestyle. An all-out sprint, the 50m requires explosive power and speed, two traits that are supposed to dwindle over the years.

But Dara Torres is proving that wrong, and she’s catching a lot of attention because of her ability to overcome that inevitable obstacle that we all must face: age.  That, and – of course – guys think she’s hot.

Torres is making history – in more ways than one.

USA Today says,

“Dara Torres is doubling up her duties in her run at history on Sunday.”

This is because, in addition to seeking her 11th Olympic medal in the finals of the 50-meter freestyle, the 41-year-old mom will swim the anchor leg of the women’s 4×100 medley relay about 40 minutes later.

Winning two medals on Sunday would tie Torres with Jenny Thompson at 12 medals (Thompson represented the US in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics). If this happens, two stars would share the title of most decorated U.S. woman swimmer in history. Torres already is the oldest female swimmer in Olympic history.

But one of the greatest impacts Torres is having on our culture is that she is inspiring older women to get fit. Check out this article from The Huffington Post which explains how this is happening and why.

Also last night, Kirsty Coventry from  Zimbabwe grabbed a gold in the 200-meter back stroke, defeating Margaret Hoelzer’s previous world-record time.

In distance, Britain’s Rebecca Adlington clinched the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle event with a time of 8 minutes, 14.10 seconds, shattering Janet Evans’ 19-year-old world record of 8:16.22. It has been said that Adlington is the “Michael Phelps of Britain”, and is setting a said to be setting a precedent for the next summer games in London.

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Because my most popular post thus far (recieving over 2,000 hits) is that of Dara Torres, I feel compelled to announce that she has achieved what many have deemed impossible: on Sunday, she qualified for her fifth Olympic games, beating American-record holder, Natalie Coughlin by 0.05 for a spot on the

Apparently, she rose from the pool to the sound of Lenny Kravitz’s American Woman blaring over the loudspeakers in Omaha on Sunday.

In terms of journalism, Olympic fandom and what’s deemed important in female sports, it seems middle-aged moms everywhere are stepping up to the plate in support and congratulations of this swimming heroine.

Karen Crouse of the New York Times could not say it any better,

“Michael Phelps, who lowered his world record in the 200 individual medley Friday, has a fan base supplemented by squealing girls. Torres is a big hit with their mothers. The support she received from the crowd of around 14,000, which rose to applaud her after she finished, made her teary.”

Torres is truly an inspiration to women everywhere; not only living the dream as an athlete overcoming the inevitable challenge of age, but also as a female who has successfully caught the attention of sports journalists, who are overwhelmingly preoccupied with competition among men. I hope Torres continues to draw attention, bring it all the way to Beijing, and then back home again. Lord knows we need it.

Another thing to note about Torres is her journey, which has lived through the age of acceptance of female athleticism.

The New York Times article eloquently puts her journey into words:

“It takes a person of a certain age to remember the days when female swimmers rarely competed after high school because there were no college scholarships for women to entice them to stay in the sport. That was in the early 1970s. Torres, who competed at Florida, and Thompson, who went to Stanford, were in the second wave of women to benefit from the changes brought about by the passage of Title IX.

Biondi, who was on the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams with Torres, said, “When girls become women, when gentlemen graduated from college, it wasn’t explicitly stated, it was just an understanding there that you were to get on with your life.”

Torres, he added, “has blown the roof off that line of thinking.”

And, my friends, that is what will make her a significant part of history. That is, if she ever retires.

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When I was younger, I was an avid reader of Sports Illustrated for Women. To my recent surprise, I visited the SI for Women Web site and was shocked at what I found. This message from the editor:

“It is with especially deep sadness that we tell you the bad news: The December 2002 issue will be Sports Illustrated Women’s last. These are tough times for a new magazine, and sometimes even loyal readers aren’t enough to make the numbers add up.”

This really saddens me. The magazine only lasted two years, running from March 2000-Nevember 2002. Its primary audience, according to Wikipedia, was women, 18-34 years old, with “a passion for sports.”

What’s even more interesting to me, is that in 2002, Cleary Simpson the then-publisher for SI Women claimed that the lack of readership (and eventual failure of the magazine) is largely due to the fact that, “women are more interested in sports as participants than fans, unlike men.”

Another problem, they claim, is that women’s interest is “fragmented” across a wide variety of sports (such as soccer, tennis or running), with little to bind them as a shared audience.

Personally, I would go as far as to say it’s our cultural values that prevent magazines and publications (as well as some women’s sports) to receive the type of attention they deserve. The primary problem: men aren’t interested (unless the girls are pretty).

It all has to do with advertising, which has everything to do with money, which relates back to what we, as members of a society, deem important enough to invest in.

While our culture values the aggressive, intense competition (and fighting) in sports by men, other values such as sound fundamentals, pure technique and fluid movement (present in women’s sports) are undervalued and deemed less important. In terms of fans, we as women are incredibly left behind.

Think about it: when do you see the top female athletes? Many times, it’s in advertisements, such as models for athletic apparel.

Take for instance Dara Torres, who, while incredibly performing in the Olympic Trials at the age if 41,is also known for her swimsuit modeling on the side. Why? Think: money. Torres is often singled out for her beauty, as she was the first female athlete to appear in the Sports Illustrated (for men) Swimsuit Issue.

Another example is Lisa Leslie of the LA Sparks. When was the last time you saw her perform on TV? When was the last time you saw her in a Got Milk ad, or on a billboard somewhere? Most likely you’d suggest the latter, as she is widely known as the “face” of women’s basketball as a Wilhemina model. But what about her being the most dominant player in the WNBA? Where did that news go?

Leslie (and Torres) make their bucks as a models, not as a top performers, and this (again) relates back to what we as a society value more in a woman: athleticism or beauty? At the end of the day, we’re still a society who’d rather have our girls look good than perform great on the playing field.

Yes, as I said in my post about Title IX, there are (thank God) more opportunities for women to play, and we have come along way in almost 40 years, but we’re still not there.

We can’t even get a Sports Illustrated magazine to be successful. And part of it is our fault. I mean, to be honest, we don’t really have time to sit around and be fans of our sports. Instead, we’re out there trying to make it in corporate America, or we’re spending our free time trying to look good. Some of us are trying to raise families, make dinner, and get the kids back and forth from their sports. A lot of us spend our free time working out in the gym to stay in shape. Few of us have time to be fans of our sports. And that’s another huge reason as to why we can’t get SI for Women to be successful. And my fear is we never will have that time. That is, unless, our culture starts shifting its values.

As someone who now falls into the age category of what would be the readership for SI for women, I say it’s time we call the magazine and request its reappearance, at least on the Web. (These days print magazines aren’t generating the readership revenue they had in the past, largely due to blogs such as mine.) We need more coverage of women’s sports. I mean, seriously, if a 10-year-old girl loves women’s sports, where do we tell them to go read about it? There is a lack here. We need to know what’s being accomplished, and how great our girls are doing on the playing fields of America (and the world).

Until then, girls, we’ll continue to balk at the yearly Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated (for men) — that is, unless one of our stellar athletes is pretty enough to make it on the cover.

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Dara TorresIt has been studied and confirmed over and over again: age and gender each have a significant impact on the cardiac response to exercise. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to apply to Dara Torres, a 41-year-old mother who is attempting to qualify for her fifth Olympic Games on June 29-July 6 at the USA Swimming Team Trials.

If Dara Torres qualifies for the Beijing Olympics, she will become the first swimmer to make five Olympic teams and will be the oldest female Olympic swimmer to date. She is truly the definition of the bionic woman, and serves as an inspiration to those who battle the inevitable obstacle of age.

To put this phenomenon into perspective, in 1984 (the year before I was born) Torres won her first Olympic gold medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. She was 14 years old. Here she is, today, still kicking butt.

Torres boggles the minds of exercise physiologists everywhere. Her physicality is remarkable for her age, and because of this, she receives regular and frequent drug tests to prove she is for real.

Her training regimen is different than the 17-year-olds she competes against. Wendy Lewellen from the Women’s Sports Foundation says,

“She takes Thursdays and Sundays off from her typical 7-2:30 work-outs, and she plays close attention to her diet. At 5’11”, she’s 10 pounds lighter than she was in 2000. I expected to encounter in Torres a living nutritional chemistry experiment. But aside from relying heavily on her Living Fuel shakes and bars in the early part of the day, her diet sounds simply sensible.”

What makes a professional athlete a true champion? In my opinion, it’s how they use their image and voice to make an impact on society.

Torees does just that. She has used her influence to raise awareness around health issues that have touched her life. Toyota sponsors her effort to spotlight eating disorders, which is a very large problem in the community of female athletes.

I’d like to wish Dara Torres the best of luck as she takes to the lanes June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb. For more information on the event, go to USASwimming.org.

To get an even better understanding of how amazing her story has become, check out the below ABC “Person of the Week” video.

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