Swimmer Janet Evans on Training for the Olympics at 40
Ask Olympic swimmer Janet Evans -- a four-time gold medal winner -- about her favorite workout music, and her face lights up.
"I love Lady Gaga," she says. "She is so her own person. She does what makes her powerful, and that's what I have to do."
Evans knows what it means to go after something you want. She has launched a comeback to compete in the 2012 summer Olympics 24 years after winning her first gold medals and 14 years after giving up competitive swimming to raise a family in Southern California.
Now 40 and the mother of two young children, Evans surprised the sports world last month as she qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials -- to be held this summer -- in the 800-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle.
Lady Gaga is a role model, Evans says, because the singer doesn't care what others think about her. And that's what Evans says she needs to learn after weathering some negativity about her decision to go for the gold again.
"Some people have said, 'You should stay at home and be a mom,'" she says. "I can't listen to them."
As a 17-year-old, Evans won three gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and another one at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. She competed again in 1996 and was chosen to hand off the Olympic torch to Muhammad Ali.
Now she wants to return.
Did Dara Torres, the 12-time Olympic medalist who, at 41, was the oldest swimmer to earn a place on a U.S. Olympic team (and who won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics), inspire her comeback?
"Dara and I are friends, and of course she's an inspiration," Evans said during a Thursday night interview in New York City, where she appeared at a health event hosted by Metamucil.
She says a few years ago, she starting feeling the desire to be more than a mother. (Her children are ages 5 and 2.) She wanted to do something for herself -- and that something was to swim again competitively.
The Southern Californian talks about how life is different training as a 40-year-old mom rather than as a 17-year-old.
"When I was a young swimmer, I didn't really think about nutrition because everything came so easy," she says. "Now, as I get older, I worry more and listen more to my body. I eat more healthy food now than I did."
Particularly, she says, because there's a history of heart disease in her family. She also trains differently, focusing on exercises that strengthen her core. "Every motion in swimming comes from your core," she says.
A typical day for Evans? She starts with a breakfast of Greek yogurt with blueberries and bananas, and her "guilty pleasure" of coffee. She goes swimming so early that her 5-year-old asks her, "Mommy, why do you go swimming when it's dark?"
"I tell him, 'So I can see you,'" she says.
She trains six days a week, swimming 10 miles and spending an hour a day in the gym.
"I have to do 100 push-ups every time I'm in the gym," she says. "It's hard at 40, but I'm doing it, and I hope I can inspire other women."
The physical part of training may be tougher than when she was a teenager, but the mental part may be easier.
She knows how fast time goes, and "while I hate to use a cliché, it's a journey," Evans says. "I have a wisdom and perspective that I didn't have back then. Winning really isn't everything."
SecondAct contributor Alina Tugend writes the award-winning "ShortCuts" column for The New York Times and published her first book, Better by Mistake, in 2011.