OUTSIDE: What's it like to be back in the pool?
BEARD: Awesome. It's so nice to get back into a regular routine, where I'm waking up in the mornings, I'm working out. I'm back with the coach I had all through high school and I'm training at the USC pool. It's been fun so far. Definitely an adventure. It hasn't been easy, but hopefully it will get better over time.
How did your schedule change from the period where you were retired?
It's weird because I got used to having so much time and having all day to do things and have a life and travel and do this and that. And now I kind of have to remind myself that I can't just zip off once a week. I have to train. I have to be here. I have to work out. So I just have to just change my whole frame of mind and my thinking. It takes a while because I got so used to doing something the last two years... Basically, I had a big vacation. I was working really hard doing other things. But it was a vacation from swimming. Now, I'm getting back into it. It's very [pause] interesting. I have a lot less time. [laughs] I'm more tired now than I've been for a long time.
Why did you decide to retire when you were 22?
I didn't really decide to retire. After the Olympics, I kept getting different job opportunities to do photo shoots or do appearances and travel. I just kept prolonging it. Okay, I'll take the winter off. Okay, I'll take the spring off. Okay, I'll take the summer off. It kept adding on and on and on. I was trying to get back in the water. I'd have two weeks, I'd get in the water and I'd train, and then I'd have to be a off whole month. So it just wasn't working out.
So I was like, "If I want to do this, I have to commit to it, I have to make it a priority. I can't make these other things a priority." So I put it to the top of my list. I still travel and I do things a lot with my sponsors. But if there's an opportunity to go and do something kind of fun, I have to weigh out the consequences of it.
How many personal appearances were you making a year?
Wow, probably a good 50 to 60 appearances, and then you add on travel days.
So 100 days away from home?
Yeah, and that's not personal days where I'm going to see my family or go snowboarding or stuff like that.
You went from your first Olympics in 1996, where you're 14 years old and holding the teddy bear up on the podium, to posing for the cover of FHMand winning the world's most downloaded female athlete. Didn't you hold that for a while?
Yeah, I think that was right around the Olympic time.
Did you feel like you were growing up in front of everyone?
It's kind of fun, in a way. But there's definitely a time period where people didn't see me very much. People had the image of me with the teddy bearthis skinny, big-toothed little girland then all of sudden I'm on the cover of a magazine wearing a bikini. And they're like, 'Wait a second.' But it was over eight years. To me, I was very slow growing up, slow maturing. It wasn't like, Man, all of sudden
To other people, it was like, 'Whoa, I thought she was a little girl.'
When you get approached on the street, do fans ask you about swimming or modeling?
Most people ask me about modeling now. It's different, because I'm not used to answering questions like that. I can answer any swimming question someone throws at me. And now I'm like, Modeling? What? Who are you talking about? What's going on?
In Beijing, will your pre-race ritual still be listening to the Grateful Dead and drinking Red Bull?
Oh, definitely. I'm not changing that. That's my thing. I always drink two Red Bulls before I race and I always have either the Grateful Dead or reggaeBob Marley or something like that. Something kind of relaxing, something that puts me in a good mood, zones me out.
How did the music start?
My family is all Deadheads. I feel like if you're raised in a family that likes Grateful Dead, you like Grateful Dead as well. That's kind of how it started. My sister and everyone in my family is into it. My dog is actually named Jerry after Jerry Garcia.
Some people like rap and hip-hop and stuff like that to pump them up. Red Bull will pump me up enough. I just want to clear my head. I have enough butterflies, enough stuff going on, that I don't need to be excited. I just want to have my own space and kind of relax and do my thing.
Red Bull isn't on the Olympics list of banned substances is it?
I think I'd have to retire if it was.
Is Beijing going to be your last Olympics or are you going to come back for a fifth?
You know what, I have no idea. Because every time I say this is going to be my last Olympics, I stick around for another four years. My thought process right now is, I'm going to keep swimming till I just can't do it anymore or I've decided to do something else. I still love it, and so far I've been pretty good at it. I'll stick with it. Hopefully, I won't break something or anything like that and maybe I will be around in 2012.