Olympic swimmer Jessica Hardy poses with a gold medal around her neck.

Olympic Swimmer Jessica Hardy says of champion athletes: “The difference is that we are normal people who won’t give up on our dreams.”

“I never surrendered. In fact, I used it to push me even harder than I ever had before.”

U.S. swimming champion Jessica Hardy was the keynote speaker for the Mihaylo Sales Leadership Center’s Spring Kickoff. Hardy discussed overcoming challenges and how to achieve great things through perseverance.

Imagine the honor of receiving a gold medal for being one of the fastest swimmers in the world. This was the lifelong goal of Orange County native Jessica Hardy, which she finally attained at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Now a college recruiter for Southern Glazer Wine & Spirits, Hardy spoke with Mihaylo students at the Sales Leadership Center’s  Spring Kickoff on Feb. 7.

Holding 12 world records, 28 international medals and 2012 Olympic gold and bronze titles, Hardy would appear at first glance to have lived a charmed life. Yet the 29-year-old has overcome a number of challenges to reach her success. “You truly can never be a victim of your circumstances,” she said. “You can’t always control things. A lot in life is about your mentality and staying positive.”

From Orange to the Olympics

Born in the city of Orange, Hardy was raised by a single mother, who remains her foremost inspiration. “My mom was my greatest role-model,” she said. “She was both the easiest and toughest person I’ll ever know.”

At age five, Jessica Hardy and her sister Amanda began training in sports. While Jessica had Olympic dreams partly inspired by watching the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, success didn’t come easily. “Sports were the highlight of our lives. But I failed at every sport except swimming, because my hand-eye coordination was terrible,” she recalled.

Hardy focused solely on swimming after age 16, when she began training in Irvine with Olympic-caliber greats. “It was a sink or swim environment, and for the first year, I sunk,” she said. “Eventually, I started keeping up, but it was very gradual. Within a year, I could see that these scary Olympians were real people.”

A huge confidence boost for Hardy was placing fifth in the Olympic trials for the 2004 games in Athens. She would go on to become the first American in 20 years to break the 100-meter breaststroke record and would attend UC Berkeley on a scholarship, though she ultimately dropped out to return to Southern California to focus on her swimming career.

Olympic Disappointment and Joy

In 2008, Hardy qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in four events. At last, her goal of Olympic medals seemed to be in sight. But she would be in for a major disappointment when she was forced to withdraw from the Olympic team due to an unintentional positive drug test.

“I never surrendered,” she said. “In fact, I used it to push me even harder than I ever had before.”

Jessica Hardy speaks to Mihaylo College students at the Sales Leadership Center spring kickoff on Feb. 7, 2017.

Jessica Hardy answers questions from Mihaylo students. She also let the audience pass around her gold medal from the 2012 games.

Hardy became only the second Olympic athlete in history to prove accidental supplement contamination, for which she received a one-year minimum suspension. She was able to resume her focus in time to qualify for the 2012 games, where she would ultimately achieve gold in the 4×100 meter medley relay and bronze in the 4×100 meter freestyle. While these events were not her initial primary athletic training focus, she credited her willpower and determination for her wins.

From the Olympics to Sales

For years, Hardy would swim twice per day for six days each week to train for international competition. In 2016, she was unable to compete in the Rio Olympics due to injury, effectively ending her athletic career.

While she had the opportunity for a business or coaching position in the Olympics, Hardy decided to explore career options outside of athletics. After earning her undergraduate degree in communications from Arizona State University in 2016, she leveraged LinkedIn for her job search, which helped her secure her current recruiting position with Southern Glazer. It was there that she met Mark Mantey, director of Mihaylo’s Sales Leadership Center.

Hardy remains committed to nonprofit causes related to her Olympic activities, including touring as an athlete spokesperson for the Make a Splash Tour with the USA Swimming Foundation, which supports swimming education and safety, and the Joy Jars campaign of the Jessie Ross Foundation, which provides gift packets to children fighting cancer.

About the Sales Leadership Center

Mihaylo’s Sales Leadership Center offers a certificate program in professional sales, networking opportunities, sales competitions and job fairs. Among their upcoming events is the Spring 2017 Career Fair, which will be held on Friday, Feb. 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fullerton Marriott. Register online.

For more on the Sales Leadership Center, stop by SGMH 5357B, send an email to slc@fullerton.edu  or visit them online.

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