Dara Torres thought her first boxing match would be fun.
Women don’t hit too hard, she believed, and boxing gloves are soft.
That mindset quickly changed after a punch from her sparring partner.
“I got hit so hard on the side of my mouth that I couldn’t close my jaw for three or four days,” Torres said in a recent telephone interview.
Torres, 49, is scheduled to make her boxing debut in an event for Haymakers for Hope billed as “Belles of the Brawl” on Wednesday in Boston. She has raised more than $18,000 of her $20,000 goal to fight cancer after losing her father, Edward, to colon cancer (donate here).
The 12-time Olympic swimming medalist discovered boxing as a way to get back into shape after knee surgery. Despite being someone who regularly attends 50-minute spin classes and swims for up to 90 minutes, Torres could barely finish two-minute rounds of sparring.
“Two-minute rounds are distance events for me,” said Torres, who completed all of her individual Olympic swimming finals in less than one minute. “I have to pace myself and not go too fast, too hard, too quickly or I’ll be exhausted.”
Torres solicited advice from Laila Ali, a fellow host on the talk show “We Need to Talk.” Ali, a former professional boxer and the daughter of Muhammad Ali, encouraged Torres to take advantage of her reach. Torres is about an inch taller than her opponent, Sue Bator, a chemical engineer.
“It won’t be easy to hit me because my arms are so long,” Torres said.
Torres is hoping that she will be fast enough to dance around the ring, since her knee issues will prevent her from ducking to avoid punches. But her trainer, Jessica Smith, keeps reminding her that she needs to land punches to score points.
“I’m not super aggressive,” Torres said. “But if [my opponent] does something to upset me, I think it will spark something in me to want to fight her.”
One of Torres’ biggest challenges has been to put on enough weight to reach 150 pounds. She has been drinking protein shakes and eating steaks, hamburgers and fries, but as of Monday afternoon, she weighed 149.2 pounds.
“I am still going to need to really chow down to make weight,” she said.
Torres expects to have 30-40 friends in attendance at the fight, including two-time Olympic swimming medalist Elizabeth Beisel. Torres compared her nerves to the feeling before swimming in an Olympic final.
“I think I’m going to be sick to my stomach,” she said. “I’m not in my element. My element is in the pool.”
Torres is confident that Wednesday’s fight will be her first and last boxing match. But she is proud that she has scarified so much to raise funds to defeat cancer.
“[Boxing] is something I don’t particularly like and it’s a hard, hard sport,” Torres said. “But it’s something that can bring more awareness and raise money to help fight this fight against cancer.”