Humble and Grounded; Gwen Goes for Gold
Two years ago she was finishing up graduate school and thinking about a full-time career; today, she’s training to compete in the London Olympic Games. If this is the first time you’re hearing about Gwen Jorgensen, you’re going to want to remember her, because she’s just getting started.
As a young girl, Gwen Jorgensen never dreamed of becoming a professional triathlete. But now, at age 26, Gwen is a professional American triathlete and a member of the 2012 Olympic team, and she only has one explanation for the chain of events that has led her to this point. “God certainly had this plan for me before I even knew I wanted it or could dream of it,” Gwen said in an interview in April, “I did not have a typical path to becoming a professional athlete.”
Gwen grew up in Wisconsin, and the list of sports she participated in as a young girl is both overwhelming and inspiring. She played basketball, swam, and competed on the track and field team in high school; but of all the sports she excelled in, she definitely had a favorite. “I grew up swimming. It was my first love and you could not get me out of the water,” Gwen said. “I started swimming competitively at age eight.”
As Gwen made preparations for college, she decided to pursue her love of swimming. “I knew I had more of a God-given talent in running, but I was more passionate about swimming,” she said. “So I decided to swim in college. I walked on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Swimming and Diving team and competed for three years.”
Though she spent three years devoting herself to collegiate swimming, Gwen did not outgrow her abilities as an all-star runner. During her junior year of college, Gwen’s high school track and field coach Eric Lehmann contacted the track coach at Wisconsin-Madison in an effort to convince Gwen to join the track and field team. “The next day I was on the track doing a time trial for Coach [Jim] Stintzi, and was at a meet that weekend,” Gwen said. “I finished my undergrad and graduate degrees at the UW-Madison in Accounting and ended up running two and a half years.”
By the time Gwen left the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she had accrued a long list of accomplishments—a multiple NCAA All American, Big Ten Champion in the 3000m and 5000m, Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient, and Regional Cross Country Athlete of the year—and had a promising future as an athlete. As Gwen moved from graduate school to a career in accounting at Ernst & Young, she also took a big leap of faith as she transitioned from being a swimmer and runner to being a full-fledged triathlete, thanks to professional triathlete and U.S. Olympic triathlete Barb Lindquist.
“Barb Lindquist is part of the college recruitment program for USA Triathlon,” Gwen said. “She contacted me and convinced me to give triathlon a try. I had no idea what a draft-legal triathlon was and had never ridden a bike before, so she had a lot of work to do!” Gwen committed to the task, and Barb, along with Gwen’s new triathlon coach, began working with Gwen to help her develop the skills she would need for this new sport.
“Barb put me in contact with my current coach, Cindi Bannink, who I met over breakfast to discuss the world of triathlon,” Gwen said, “and we hit it off right away!” Gwen attributes much of her chemistry with Cindi and Barb to their faith. “Both Cindi and Barb are strong Christian women who I look up to and am fortunate to have in my life.”
Having Cindi as a coach, Gwen began to train and prepare for the world of triathlon. She jumped on a bike several times a week and did more specific workouts tailored to the run and swim lengths she would do in an actual race. Her hard work paid off, and in 2010—the year Gwen decided to begin competing as a triathlete—she won the silver medal at the World University Triathlon Championships in Spain and was elected USA Triathlon Rookie of the Year.
Later, when she competed in the World Championship Series triathlon in London in 2011, Gwen placed second and earned a spot on the 2012 US Olympic triathlon team. Gwen took a leave of absence from work and has been travelling and training ever since, but her life couldn’t be much better than it is right now.