As was the case when she was training and competing at the highest levels of swimming, Jessica Hardy Meichtry has a lot going on these days.
She balances life as a wife, mother and marketing and business development executive for a large athletic and apparel distribution company while working through and coping with the restrictions of living in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Add a move to California a week before the world stopped, and Meichtry, who retired from competition following the 2016 Olympic Trials, said her life is definitely full of constant activity.
And she’s pretty much loving every minute of it.
“We have also been busy unpacking and getting settled here,” said Meichtry, who is married to Swiss Olympic swimmer Dominik Meichtry and mom to Olivia, 2, Sebastian, 6 months. “Dom and I share our calendars and make sure that one of us is always free to watch the kids when scheduling work meetings, and thankfully our employers have been very understanding of the unprecedented times we’re all in.
“The kids have been keeping us busy during quarantine – failing at recent potty-training attempts with Olivia and Sebastian just starting to crawl – so they’re both moving in separate directions all the time.”
Because Dom works for Oracle from home most of the time, and Jessica works remotely all the time (BSN is based in Dallas), she admits there are moments when they have felt overwhelmed with no daycare and the kids at home during the pandemic.
Nonetheless, they do the best they can to support one another’s needs and adapt to whatever each day brings.
“All we can do is take one day at a time and do the best we can in those moments,” she said. “I have noticed some personality changes in my kids not being able to socialize/play as much as normal, which breaks our hearts, but all we can do is try our best to keep our lives as ‘normal’ as possible.”
For the past year, Meichtry has been helping grow the swimming division for BSN, which is known for business in traditional revenue sports – baseball, basketball, football, etc. – but not necessarily swimming.
“It is fun getting to think outside the box and truly make a big impact for the growth of our sport,” she said.
Meichtry said she relies upon several skills and lessons learned while swimming in her work and personal lives – namely dedication, perseverance and “amazing time management” skills.
And then there’s the many relationships she made during her swimming career – one which has been most life-changing.
“Swimming taught me the obvious life skills about not taking no for an answer, following through on commitments, making sacrifices, how to have amazing time management skills, how to work harder than you thought you were capable of,” she said.
“It also introduced me to my husband, some of my best friends, helped me travel the world. I am entirely who I am today because of the sport. I could not be more grateful for the experiences that I got to have in it.”
Those experiences included an Olympics (2012) and four World Championships, along with several other international teams and meets.
Her last competitive race was at the 2016 Trials as she competed with significant injuries that limited her training as she prepared for Trials that year.
“I was hanging on by a thread, but am so grateful I stuck it out and didn't give up until the very end,” said Meichtry, who won a total of 28 (14 gold) medals in international competitions. “I didn't want to leave the sport wondering ‘what if’ in any capacity. After over a decade on the National Team, I was absolutely at peace handing over the reins to the next generation.”
One lesson Meichtry has learned from and which will always be part of her swimming legacy is the one-year suspension for testing positive for a banned substance she endured prior to the 2008 Olympics (which she made) into 2009.
She returned to competition in August 2009 at the U.S. Open, and she was able to put the incident behind her en route to earning a spot on the 2012 London Olympic team – where she was part of bronze (400 freestyle) and gold medal-winning relay teams.
Now more than a decade removed from that time, Meichtry said the experience made her want to return from suspension and prove that she would never voluntarily take an illegal substance, and she didn’t need any additional help to swim fast.
“It (suspension) made me want to prove to myself that the negative connotation that comes with testing positive wasn’t true,” she said. “I hadn’t intentionally consumed the banned substance, and those who know me know that I would never intentionally dope, but so much of the world spotlight and judgement came onto my shoulders due to the fact that it happened during an Olympics.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I did deserve everything that I achieved beforehand, what I was capable of, and I truly astounded myself breaking so many world records once I was allowed to compete again. I was more motivated than I ever would’ve been without that experience. It ultimately made me not only a better athlete but also more appreciative and humble along the way.”
As someone who still makes time to work out (when she can) and still follows swimming pretty closely, Meichtry said the news of the Olympic postponement (and subsequent Trials postponement) to 2021 wasn’t a huge surprise during this pandemic.
But having experienced her own setbacks and obstacles during her career, she said her advice to athletes – especially younger swimmers – is to take the delay as an opportunity to continue working and improving for 2021.
“I had experiences in my career where I wasn’t in control of my competition schedule, and I found that staying in the moment, working as hard as I could each day and being ready to go when the time is finally allowed is my best advice,” said Meichtry, a former world-record-holder in both the 50 and 100 breaststroke events.
“I think we’ll see a bigger impact from the younger up-and-comers who have had more time to develop, and we’ll see a little more fall-off from the post-grad-aged swimmers with the Olympics/Trials delayed another year. Someone like Alex Walsh, who is so close to breaking out on the international level, has another year to develop, and of course, someone like Regan Smith will only be more dangerous, but I’m looking forward to seeing who else surprises the world.”
As she looks back over her own swimming career these days, Meichtry said times and medals don’t stand out in her memories as much as the relationships she formed over the years.
These are the memories and experiences that provide tremendous value and reward in her post-swimming life and always will.
“I could barely list off my best times to you – it’s the friendships, experiences and memories that mean the most,” she said. “I am lucky to still live really close to a lot of former national teammates. Kara Lynn Joyce and Kristy Kowal and I used to go on lunch dates pretty commonly before quarantine, and I see the Lezak family at swim lessons every week. Kaitlin Sandeno is about 15 minutes away and one of my best friends.
“I’ve been zooming with a few friends lately as well. The swimming world is a small one, with some of the best people in the world in it. I am grateful for each and every person I met along the way.”
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