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Summer temps are heating up, and so is Olympic fever. We’ll
be rooting for all the U.S. athletes competing
in the games, but we saved some extra cheers for long-distance swimming
dynamo Janet Evans. The 5-foot-6-inch phenomenon shot to stardom at the 1988 Olympics
when she was only 16, taking home gold medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle
and the 400m individual medley. Evans continued to dominate the sport until she
called it quits after the ’96 Olympics at the age of 25.
Sixteen years later, Evans came out of retirement with the
goal of swimming in the 2012 Olympics. And while she fell short of the cutoff
during trials, the 40-year-old mom isn't sorry she took on the challenge. After
her chat with Prevention, all we can say is, Evans makes it easy to believe
that age is nothing more than a few extra candles on that birthday cake.
time you trained for the Olympics you were in your mid-20s. Did you approach training any differently now that you’re 40?
is a little bit different. I get a little more tired. For me, the training
itself was actually very similar to how I trained when I was 20. Swimming is
just basically getting in the pool, doing the laps. Getting it done. The
difference I have noticed now that I’m 40 is that I need to take better care of
myself outside of the pool. You know,
I think that when you’re in your teens and 20s, you really take advantage of
your health and take it for granted. So, for me, it’s been more of a question
of eating better, taking care of my health, taking care of my heart.
How do you stay motivated to push yourself
when you’re low on energy?
Yeah, I think
you are in that zone. You just kind of get up and you do it, and you are tired.
But I think that one of the reasons I decided to come back was that after
having two children [Sydney, 6, and Jake, 3] I would be up in the middle of the
night with them, thinking that nothing could ever be harder than this. I try to
get my 8 hours of sleep, which I think is very important. And like I said, I
eat better and try to take better care of myself.
So what’s a
typical day look like in terms of diet for you?
I eat a
banana prior to my morning workout. I think protein is very important when you
are training as hard, as you’re breaking your muscles down. So I usually have a
protein shake or some eggs or something that gives me a little protein after my
workout. I also have a scoop of my Metamucil to keep my cholesterol down–I have
a history of heart disease in my family. Then, for lunch, I usually have
something that’s going to sit well in my stomach because I have to go back to
training. So I usually have a turkey sandwich or something of that nature. And
dinner, I come home and make something healthy for my kids and husband. Once
again, kind of protein-based, but basically trying to get enough fuel to get
back up and do it all again the next day.
teaching your kids how to combat heart disease?
I am. That’s
been one of the things that this comeback has really helped with— helping us
all be more healthy. If I eat healthy, everyone eats healthy because I make the
meals. So, in that respect, it’s been a super-positive experience for all of
When you are
doing laps for exercise versus specific training for the Olympics, which
strokes do you normally do?
I am a
freestyler. I mostly do freestyle, but I’ll also mix it up and do all four of
the individual medley strokes [freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and
butterfly] because even though I don’t swim those in a race, those are the
strokes that keep me strong in the water. All four strokes really use all of
your different muscle groups.
How do you juggle being an athlete with
being a mom?
You know, I
think I’m a working mom. I think any working mom would tell you it’s a question
of balance and finding your groove. For me, it’s been coming home and kind of
shedding the athlete side and getting into the mom side. And when I’m at the
pool, being an athlete and focusing on that.
How do you
coordinate your training schedule with your kids’ schedules?
Well, I swim
every morning at 5:30 a.m., right about the time they are rolling out of bed.
So that really helps. Then I swim a lot in the afternoon. So I’m home a lot
during the day with them. They just got out of school. I was home to take my
little girl to preschool, but she’s done now. For me it was finding a way to
work my swimming schedule around what works for them, too. They are obviously
opinion, what makes swimming such a great exercise for women in their 40s and
good exercise. It’s mostly good because it’s non-impact. So you’re not really
hurting your body. You’re not pounding the pavement. You’re not impacting your
muscles and your joints. Swimming stretches you out and keeps your muscles long
and lean. Like I said, doing all four strokes works every muscle group in your
body. It works your core. It’s one of the best exercises that you can do.
What tips would you offer a reader who wanted to start swimming for weight loss?
I think the most important thing is to remember
to breathe. I think a lot of people get in the pool and forget they have to
breathe. They need to breathe, relax. I say, just get in the pool and try to do
about 10 laps, and then every time you go back, try to do a couple more.
Do you have a positive body image now that you’re
I think that I feel good. I feel strong. I think
I can keep up.
If you hadn’t become an Olympian, what would you
be doing now?
I don’t know. I think I would definitely be a mom.
Helping kids out in the water, making sure they’re safe in the pool. I don’t
know. I’ve always been a swimmer. It’s all I really know.