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London calling
Waukesha native Gwen Jorgensen is ready to take on the Olympic Games in triathalon

By AMY SIEWERT

January 2012

Gwen Jorgensen never dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete. Even during college, when she reached All-American status in track, she didnít have her sites set on representing the United States at the games.

Her plan was to be an accountant for Ernst & Young in Milwaukee, after earning her undergraduate and masterís degrees from UW-Madison.

Life led her down a slightly different path in 2010 following a phone call from Barb Lindquist of the USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program.

Now, the world will be watching as Jorgensen competes in the 2012 Olympic Games in London after qualifying for the U.S. triathlon team in August ó just one year after entering the sport.

"I always watched the Olympics and thought it was awesome, but I never dreamed of being there. Now itís just amazing and a huge, incredible honor," Jorgensen says.

To say Jorgensen is a natural when it comes to swimming and running is an understatement. Her rapid success in triathlon is astonishing, reaching the podium as a pro in less than a year.

But talking with the 25-year-old Waukesha native, you would never know of her incredible accomplishments. Her enduring smile and humbling attitude shine through. The competitive edge is left at the finish line and her appreciation for life and the people in it takes over.

"I look up to a lot of people: family, teammates, etc. I am super blessed with the support around me," says Jorgensen.

Her journey to becoming an athlete started at the age of 7, when she joined the Waukesha Express Swim Team.

"I started in swimming because my parents had a pool," Jorgensen says. She explains that her parents, Nancy and Joel Jorgensen, put her in swimming lessons and on a swim team where she fell in love with the water.

In high school she joined the track team at Waukesha South High School. "Swimming was my first love, but I knew in high school I had more of a natural talent for running," she says.

She continued competing in the two sports in college, where she swam her freshman, sophomore and junior years. At the encouragement of her high school track coach, Erich Lehman, she tried out for the track team halfway through the season and made it. "I stopped swimming my senior year and did cross country and indoor and outdoor track."

In less than a year, she made All American for outdoor track. "I felt incredibly blessed and was just having a ball with it and wasnít thinking much about it."

When Lindquist contacted her during graduate school about joining the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program, she wasnít that interested.

"Honestly, I had this great job lined up with Ernst & Young. I had my career set," she told Lindquist, who suggested she could keep working and compete in triathlons on the side.

"I started ... and fell in love. I think if I would have stopped after college I would have missed the competitive nature of sports. Itís something I donít get in the corporate world," she says.

Her first official race was in Clermont, Fla., in March 2010, where she received her pro card despite a difficult race. "I got my butt kicked and I thought, ĎWhat am I doing?í" Although swimming and running were second nature for Jorgensen, biking was a another issue. She spent a lot of time in the saddle before her second race a month later at the World University Games in Valencia, Spain, where she took second place.

She credits her leap in standings to time on the road. "All the focus was getting comfortable on the bike and getting the skills on the bike."

"Tom Schuler has been great with teaching me the skills; he has been a great help," says Jorgensen. Schuler owns Team Sports Inc., Wauwatosa, a company that manages the Timex Multisport Team, and is one of Jorgensenís sponsors.

"A big part of athletic performance is preparation, which leads to confidence, which leads to success," says Schuler. "Cycling was Gwenís weakest link in triathlon, and I have been fortunate to be able to help her identify and focus on the cycling skills that have yielded the biggest bang for the buck."

Since then, the Waukesha native has been making her mark on the triathlon world and is setting her sights on the Olympic Games.

"I look forward to being a part of Team USA, just having that spirit there and bringing the entire nation together and experiencing that," she says.

Schuler, a former Olympian, will help Jorgensen train for the big event. "I will help Gwen prepare mentally for London, which requires an extra dose of focus and mental preparation. This will be Gwenís most important athletic event to date, and I will do everything I can to help her be 110 percent prepared," Schuler says. "Besides Gwenís significant natural talent, her balance, discipline and mental toughness are rare. She has been a pleasure to work with for the past year, and the best is yet to come."

Although she has yet to set her 2012 racing schedule, she plans on competing before setting off for London. "I will definitely get a few more races in because itís good experience and fun."

That experience will continue to teach her how to put an entire race together more efficiently. "To compete at this level, Iíll have to learn to put together every aspect of the race ó as the other girls I am competing against execute on race day. I am shocked that I am able to compete with the girls I race against; they are amazing athletes."Learning to execute on race day comes with plenty of training time. Jorgensen averages 20 hours a week, depending where sheís at in her training cycle.

Itís an exhausting schedule; one that might drive many athletes to burn out. But with her trademark positive attitude, Jorgensen is taking it all in stride ó and one race at a time.

"I see myself competing in the sport as long as Iím still having fun, and have the opportunity to race," she says. "I am fortunate to be healthy and be able to race at the level Iím at, and I look forward to taking it one year at a time." m

 


This story ran in the January 2012 issue of: