Happiness is my new priority

Courtesy of Jessica Hardy

Jessica Hardy hanging out with her new puppy, Duke.

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, leading up to the London Games, there was a lot of anxiety in my life. After my suspension just before Beijing, I was afraid I wouldn't get another shot at the Olympics. Even if I did perform well enough to make it to London, I worried I wouldn't perform my best once I was there.

Now, with two Olympic medals under my belt, I treat life differently. In addition to being more relaxed, I've gained a better understanding of the big picture. I've toned down my training a bit (three hours a day instead of six), and if I see a brownie lying around, I might even let myself eat it. Don't get me wrong; I'm still just as competitive as I've always been. But for the first time in my career, I've learned to spend a little more time having fun and enjoying life. I highly recommend it!

Courtesy of Jessica Hardy

"Some of the maintenance a 26-year-old body needs," said Jessica Hardy.

Since I haven't competed at all this year, I've had the opportunity to do things that weren't necessarily available to me before the Olympics, like appearances, photo shoots, motivational speaking and clinics. It's been a blast. I'll be participating in the Toyota Grand Prix pro/celebrity auto race in Long Beach, Calif. I recently spent five days training for the event, and I'm amazed at how much technique is involved. It's like swimming, in some ways: You need the technique before you can apply speed. For the record, racing 105 mph around a track is a great way to get some aggression out of your system.

With all the fun as I'm having out of the pool, it's tough to get excited about the daily training grind. On one hand, I have three more years until the hard work really matters again at the Olympics, but I also have some things I'd like to accomplish at the world championships this summer. Over the past couple of years, I've been about a tenth of a second off the world record in the 50-meter breaststroke. I'm a little superstitious when it comes to sharing my goals, but that's one record I would love to get my hands on.

Even though I'll be 29 once Rio rolls around in 2016, I definitely believe I can make it there. Maintaining a healthy body gets tougher every year (thank goodness for chiropractors!), but, after missing out on the Beijing Games, I'm hungry for one more Olympic experience.

Courtesy of Jessica Hardy

"On my stand-up paddle board, loving my downtime," said Jessica Hardy, who's had a more relaxed training schedule this past year.

Until then, my priority is my happiness. I recently decided to move back to my hometown of Long Beach. I could live without my one-hour commute to the pool every morning, but I'm reaping the benefits of living near family and friends. In my downtime, it's so nice to be able to hang out at the beach or have dinner (preferably Japanese or Mexican food) with a group of old friends. I'm also the proud new owner of a puggle puppy named Duke.

On top of everything else, I'm excited to be marrying my fiance, Swiss swimmer Dominik Meichtry, this fall. Our schedules make for a lot of time apart, so it will be nice to make things official. I'm happy to report that wedding planning hasn't been quite as nerve-racking as I was anticipating.

It's fascinating to see how a change in perspective has freed me up to enjoy my sport and my life in a new way. During and after my suspension, I struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress. Now, thanks to some therapy, some work with a sports psychologist and even some brain training, I've learned that there is nothing to fear. If I put my mind to something, I know I can accomplish it.