How many World Triathlon Series races will Gwen Jorgensen win in her career?
photo: UW Athletics
Jorgensen’s Headfirst Jump into Multisport
Ask any triathlete how they got their start in the sport, and each will give a different answer. Gwen Jorgensen found herself competing in triathlons for the first time just a few months ago, at USA Triathlon’s Elite Development Race in Clearwater, Fla. Her eighth-place finish at that race - a top-three placing among amateur women - earned her an elite license and the opportunity to compete in ITU Continental Cup events and put the possibility of the Olympic Games on the horizon. In her first Olympic-distance event in May at the FISU World University Championships, Jorgensen blasted through the run to finish in second, just seven seconds behind the winner. It was only her second triathlon.
Jorgensen got her start in sport at a young age, as her parents encouraged her to participate in activities she enjoyed, like basketball, swimming and track. As a standout swimmer in high school, she went on to swim for the University of Wisconsin Badgers for two years before making the switch to running track and cross country.
“The best part about being a collegiate athlete was the people I met and the experiences I had,” said Jorgensen. “At UW, I was given so many opportunities. I got to travel to places I had never been before, meet new people and learn how to deal with success and failure. On the swim team, I was not one of the better athletes, and I had to learn to deal with that. When I switched to running, I realized I had been given an opportunity to inspire others.”
With one year of college left, Jorgensen was focusing on her current sports and her schoolwork when Barb Lindquist contacted her and asked her to be a part of the USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program. The program’s goal is to expose current collegiate swimmers and runners to the possibility of making a career out of triathlon. The program helps these potential elite athletes by educating them on the steps and decisions needed to becoming a professional triathlete and encouraging them through mentorship relationships. As Jorgensen says, “The Collegiate Recruitment Program is able to find gems of talent that are currently untapped in the triathlon scene.”
Others had suggested that Jorgensen try triathlon after college because of her swim and run background, but she hadn’t given multisport much thought until Lindquist had reached out to her and introduced her to the program.
“Triathlons are popular, but not something everyone thinks of doing. I had only done one triathlon before Barb contacted me, and it was a local super-sprint tri I had done with a friend from high school. I had a mountain bike and didn’t train for it,” Jorgensen admits. “After meeting a few triathletes, I was amazed by their generosity and the way the triathlon community is like a family. It made me excited to join the triathlon world.”
Even with a background that gave her experience as a competitor in two of the three sports, Jorgensen is learning that she has to balance her training to include all three equally. She is now working with USAT-certified coach Cindi Bannink, who “knows exactly when to ramp it up, and when to hold me back,” and enjoys all the different people she meets through her training – swimmers, runners, cyclists and triathletes. “All have their own unique qualities and all are amazing friends and teammates. It is also nice to not focus solely on one thing; instead, I have a balanced outlook, which helps keep things in perspective.”
Since graduating from UW, Jorgensen has taken a job as a CPA with Ernst & Young, and between her work and triathlon endeavors, she still has found time for her friends and family. “You need to have balance in life. Sports do not define who you are; they are only a part of what makes you unique. Sports also bring about failures and success, which you can use to help others. I wish someone told me to learn from my mistakes, and help others through both my highs and lows. I can only do my best on any given day, and so I go out there and compete to the best of my ability.”