Between training for Olympic trials, a recent engagement to fellow
swimmer Dominik Meichtry, and activity in water conservation
campaigns, 25-year old Jessica Hardy has her hands full.
Despite her busy schedule, the 11-time World Record holder took a
few minutes to catch up with Aquatics International to
fill us in on her career — and why she continues to get in
the pool every day.
Q: When did you start swimming?
A: I started swimming at 7 in a neighborhood
community pool. My mom would take us there and we would hang out at
the pool. There was a team that congregated there so I asked my mom
if I could go beat them. I guess my competitive nature started way
Q: You’ve been active in other sports as well. What
were they and how did you make the transition to swimming?
A: I did every other sport imaginable growing up in
addition to swimming the whole time. In high school, I played water
polo and swam, but my junior year, I quit water polo to focus on
swimming. I had made the Olympic trials with only swimming three
times a week and really mainly focusing on water polo. So I moved
club teams and started swimming for Dave Salo, who at the time was
with Irvine Novaquatics. It was like an hour commute for me every
day in high school each way, so that was a big sacrifice. It was a
good move, though. The first year I trained with him I was a 1:12
100m breaststroker. The next year I was at 1:06 100m breaststroke.
And I broke a world record in 2005 after a year and a half of
swimming with him.
Q: A lot has happened in your career thus far. What would
you say has been the most interesting aspect of swimming?
A: I guess from a broad perspective, it’s the people
you get to meet from all over the world and traveling all over the
world. There’s people from everywhere from all backgrounds
and getting exposed to that as a kid is really cool.
Q: Are there different things culturally people do in the
A: Oh definitely. A lot of European coaches, for example,
will smoke on deck even in an indoor pool, and we’re trying
to work out really hard. Some of the coaches will wear speedos, and
we’re not really used to that in the U.S. In training, in the
U.S., we always swim down the right side of the lane and then flip
and turn and come down the left side of the lane coming back so
it’s just like how you would drive down the road here. But if
you’re in the pool with Australian or British swimmers,
they’ll go the opposite way, so it messes up your flip turn
and a lot of people will get in head-on collisions.
Q: What has been one of the most challenging aspects of
being a competitive swimmer?
A: The social sacrifices you have to make to be a
successful swimmer are huge. Growing up in high school, especially,
I wasn’t able to go out with my friends on the weekends as
much as normal kids. Morning practices put a damper on how late you
can stay up and your energy level throughout the day is really low
all the time. You just have to be really mindful of your social
exertion and swimming has to come first.
Q: Why did you choose swimming?
A: I think swimming really chose me, because I played
every single sport and I sucked at everything else so really I
didn’t have a choice; it was just that I was only good at
swimming. What I love about swimming is that the reward from the
hard work you put in is 100 percent equal so it’s not based
on judges, it’s not based on political involvement from
referees. It’s how hard you work and how fast you swim, which
Q: What has been your fondest memory of your swimming
career thus far?
A: Breaking two world records in the same race in 2009
(the 50m and the 100m breaststroke).
Q: Leading up to the Olympics, what are you most eager to
experience and what are you looking forward to the most?
A: I think I was 13 years old watching the Sydney Games
while on vacation with my family, and I thought it was the coolest
thing ever. My stepdad said, “You could do that too. Why not,
you?” And I thought, “No, I could never make the
Olympics.” That was the first time someone had told me I
could do it. In 2005, when I broke the world record and made the
national team, I really put myself into a position where I really
could have an Olympic dream. I’ve been at an elite level for
so many years, but I haven’t had the chance to go to the
Olympics in my career. So to finally have the opportunity this year
with so many barriers in my career, I’m really appreciative
to have the opportunity. But I am hoping to win some hardware at
the Olympics this summer.
Q: How important is a family’s support for an
A: Supportive parents are so helpful, and I was lucky to
have my mom and stepdad there. But all young swimmers need, is
someone to believe in them, and to have confidence in themselves
that they can do it too. Great things can happen. You never
Q: Earlier you mentioned some barriers? When you were
banned from participating in the Olympics four years ago after
testing positive for a banned stimulant, what did you learn from
the experience and what insight would you give to somewhat else who
might not be knowledgeable about supplemental products? (A sports
arbitration panel later found Hardy had unknowingly and
unintentionally consumed a contaminated nutritional supplement. Her
suspension period was set to the minimum possible, one year.)
A: It’s a very scary topic because anything
that’s a nutritional supplement, if it says supplemental
facts instead of nutritional facts it’s not regulated by the
FDA in the U.S. Everything on the label is not guaranteed to be
exactly what it says. People go through lengthy discussions and
claim they have tested products and have safe vitamins and
nutritional supplements, but there is no guarantee. They cannot
promise a clean product. If it’s not regulated by the FDA,
it’s not safe. So I’ve learned how careful you need to
be with everything you consume. Literally toothpaste: I have to
look at the labels, and I don’t take anything that’s
not poured with a closed lid that I watched being poured, even at a
friend’s house. It gives me anxiety a little, watching how
many people at swim meets take nutritional supplements.
Q: A lot of young, aspiring athletes look up to those in
the limelight. What are some things you hope to share as a role
A: The biggest thing is that it can be them, too. A world
record holder, world champion, national team member, hopefully an
Olympian. I am no different than them. I was their speed at
one point. I was them at one point, and all I did was keep trying
and keep believing in myself. I’m a goofball just like them,
so that’s all they need to know. They are just like me. They
just need to keep working hard, and keep believing in
Q: When it comes to community, you have been active in some
charitable causes. What issues are most important to you?
A: I work with the Long Beach Water Department on water
conservation, but I’m hoping to spread that to more than just
in my own community. It’s a message we should recognize
worldwide. I grew up in the water, living on the water in
California, swimming and playing water polo and surfing, but the
importance of having water is really understated. In
California, we have a lot of drought problems. We waste water
and don’t make smart decisions. So educating people on how to
improve their habits — that’s all it takes. It’s
not a big movement. It’s just little changes, and I hope I
can help make an impact.
Q: From this point, what is the next step in your Olympic
goals, and what point are you at?
A: Right now, I’m that phase where you train really
hard and can barely lift your arms above your head. We have a few
competitions leading up to trials, but Olympic trials are my focus,
because it’s really difficult to qualify as an America. My
goal for trials is to do what I did in 2008 and qualify. I have
three individual events, and if I qualify for any of those, I will
be very happy.
Q: What are some really simple things aspiring swimmers can
do to improve their swimming skills?
A: Being active and healthy is really important. That
feeling you get after working really hard in practice and giving it
your all. You have a buzzed feeling after when you get out and
start moving around and living in the real world again. You have a
buzz all day from working in the water. It’s a totally happy
feeling I think everyone should have that healthy lifestyle. Eating
right and being active is such a great thing to do.
Q: Speaking of lifestyle, what is a day in the life of
Jessica Hardy like?
A: I wake up at 6; walk my dog; make breakfast to eat
after practice; eat something small before practice; go to the
pool; sit in the hot tub for 15 minutes; then I start my swim
workout at 7:30 and go until 9:30 or 10. Then I eat my bigger
breakfast and drive straight to weights. I lift for two hours; come
home; eat more; take a 20-minute nap for recovery. Then I return
emails or conduct interviews; run errands; get a massage; do
physical therapy; go for a jog and/or do yoga in the afternoon;
cook dinner, and then take my dog out for another walk before
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite training
A: My least favorite is long-distance swimming. It's hard
on my body because I have lots of “fast-twitch” muscle
fibers as a sprinter. My favorite, besides fast swimming, is
Q: If you were not a swimmer, what would you be?
A: Hopefully a stand-up paddle board racer or a beach
volleyball player. But, most likely, I would be finishing up my
degree and looking for a job.