Maggie Mac Neil knew it was time to take a step back.
Earlier this week, the swimming Olympic champion announced that she will skip all individual races at this summer's World Championships, despite winning the women's 100m fly at the Canadian Swimming Trials.
Now, speaking to Olympics.com's Andrew Binner, Mac Neil explained: "I just needed a little bit of a break when it came to competing this summer to kind of get back to where I was before the Olympics," adding that she struggled after winning gold in Tokyo and then a short-course world title, in world record time, at the World 25m Swimming Championships in Dubai last year.
"My next thing I wanted to accomplish after the Olympics was to break a world record, so I was working toward that. And then in December, I finally accomplished that. So since then, I've kind of been like, 'What's next?'," she said.
'Internal motivation' now drives Maggie Mac Neil
"I would say that it's been a challenging year, but I think just a lot of changes happened in my life after winning at the Olympics," Mac Neil said, referring to coaching changes that took place at the University of Michigan, where she competed collegiately.
"At my school, my whole programme changed and my training changed, so I just needed a little bit of a break when it came to competing this summer to kind of get back to where I was before the Olympics."
That was before Mac Neil fell on the pool deck last month, suffering a fracture in her elbow she had initially dismissed as something much more minor.
"I just found out that I have a fracture in my elbow a couple of days ago. Until then, I thought it was a bruise," she admitted. "I definitely wanted to take the precautions to make sure that it doesn't get worse over the next couple of weeks and work [back] up. It probably works out well now that I'm not focussing on 100 fly for Worlds, so gives me a little bit more time to heal physically."
Mac Neil added that, in addition to needing a break from the pool, she had been dealing with feeling aimless after achieving all her goals last year, something she has learned to overcome.
"I'm starting to be more comfortable with the idea of not having to have a goal that's coming next, or [having] to be focussed on something else," the Canadian revealed.
"Ever since I was little going through the sport, I was like, I need to make this time to make this qualification; that I want to make trials and I wanted to make a senior national team; that I wanted to obviously go to the Olympics.
"I think the accumulation of that has definitely helped me to realise that I don't always need something that I'm working towards. And now it's kind of more internal motivation to just do it because I love the sport."
Maggie Mac Neil: Relays 'such a fun thing'
Instead of competing in the 100m fly at the World Championships, which are scheduled for 18 June–3 July in Budapest, Hungary, the 22-year-old will instead swim in the relays.
Mac Neil was on the Canadian relay teams that won silver in the women's 4x100m freestyle and bronze in the women's 4x100 medley relays at last summer's Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
She told Olympics.com that switching up her plans for this year's Worlds would help her have what she previously described would be a "chill summer".
"Just not having the pressure of having to defend my title and having to still hit the times that I was hitting last year, kind of all that stuff," Mac Neil said.
"Being on the relay has always been such a fun thing for me to do, and I've been training with the girls on the relay since I came back to Toronto after school. It's always a great time in practise and I really want to see what we can do this summer together.
"We train together every day when it comes to relay day. We get ready as a team and we kind of move as one body. And I think our chemistry and being the young up-and-coming team that we are makes our bond even stronger."
Mac Neil aims for Commonwealth Games
It is a busy summer for the Canadian team, who will head to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, at the end of July after the World Championships.
While she has ruled out competing individually at Worlds, Mac Neil said she still raced in the 100m butterfly at the Canadian Trials despite her injury because it served as a selection event not just for the World Championships, but also the Commonwealths.
"[The injury is] not as bad swimming. It's mostly bad when I'm doing weight training or just putting weight on my elbow," she said.
"Luckily, swimming wasn't too bad, but I know I wanted just to get on the team for Commonwealth Games this summer, so that's why I swam the 100 fly the other day."
And, she added: "After winning at the Olympics and then winning the short course Worlds, I feel like I've done that and I've kind of proven myself.
"I can kind of focus on healing my elbow and just generally having fun this summer and enjoying what I'm doing."