How many World Triathlon Series races will Gwen Jorgensen win in her career?
Overcoming Intimidation at the OTC
Growing up in a small farm town, there wasn’t much to do besides work on your family’s farm or play sports. I didn’t have a farm so I went with the sports option. I grew up swimming and when I entered high school I began running. Running was a new and exciting sport for me and it was even more fun because I ended up being good at it. I continued to swim, but I had some great successes in running and I was fortunate enough to be recruited to run in college. I didn’t know it then but those two sports would lay the foundation for where I am today.
Fast forward to May 2012. I received my Bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison where I ran on the cross country and track teams. Soon after graduating I became a part of the Collegiate Recruitment Program (after plenty of hours back in the pool brushing off the five years of dust). I began racing triathlons in July 2012 and completely got hooked to the sport. My “rookie” season went well and in December I received the most amazing opportunity through the Collegiate Recruitment Program to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and train full time for triathlon. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity and felt one step closer to my long-term goal of competing in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Upon my arrival at the OTC I felt a nervous wave coming over me. I suddenly felt disconnected from my body. Everyone around me looked intimidating and so experienced compared to myself. I began my registration process at the Athlete Center and noticed a familiar face to my right… Shalane Flanagan! I come from a running background, so to be checking into the OTC right next to one of the most decorated female distance runners EVER had me shaking in my boots. Should I be here? Do I belong here? Am I in WAY over my head? I’m not a “Shalane Flanagan” of triathlon…! During lunch I felt so nervous I could barely eat — and that’s saying a lot because the food at the training center is AMAZING. I began to realize that I was a big fish from a small pond getting ready to become a small fish in a HUGE pond; a very scary feeling!
Finally, I went back to my new room and began to get settled with help from my boyfriend, Chris. While putting things away it was obvious how out-of-sorts I was acting, and we talked about what was so intimidating. I told him that I wasn’t sure that I belonged here. “What makes me good enough to train at the same place as Shalane Flanagan?” (I later found out that Alan Webb, Evan Jager, Chris Solinsky, Kara Goucher and the rest of the Oregon Track Club were also here. My running idols!) Chris listened to my meltdown and finally reminded me of how hard I have been training for this. I was asked to come here through the Collegiate Recruitment Program. I am a bona fide recruit with this program (a program that has turned amateurs to Olympians)— a huge accomplishment! Although I actually am entering a much bigger pond, my work ethic and talent does not leave me during the process.
My confidence began to slowly seep back to me, but it made me wonder, “What is it about intimidation that makes us forget everything that got us to where we are?” Intimidation happens to every athlete at some point in their career. It can happen on the starting line; you get intimidated in a sprint race because someone has an Ironman tattoo, or a fast wetsuit, or huge biceps and you automatically think, “I don’t belong here, they’re gonna kick my butt in this race!” Or you are the athlete who looks up stats, and you toe the line next to someone who raced 45 seconds faster than you last year, who knows where they are this year, but you’ve already counted yourself out of the race. That is what was happening to me here at the OTC — I was intimidated and immediately lost all of my confidence. Thanks to a pep talk from Chris, I realized that obviously people who know the sport of triathlon see potential in me — that’s why I’m here. Despite the success that all of those “big name” athletes have had in their careers… they had to START SOMEWHERE.
I am now one month into my time at the OTC, and I am happy to say that the intimidation and doubt that I was feeling on that first day never came back to haunt me. In fact, I have turned the intimidation into excitement. I have the opportunity to train at the same place as some of my idols! My teammates and I even began to make friends with many of them (they’re not so intimidating after all!).
I know that there will be plenty more times in my career when doubt shadows my confidence, but I think that recognizing those feelings and combating them with something that gives you confidence will make those thoughts go away. So next time you’re looking around the start line like a deer in headlights, think about all the great quality training sessions that you’ve done, the last PR you ran, or just shake the thoughts away, put a smile on your face and BE HAPPY that you are out pushing your body to the limit because you love being a triathlete!