Gwen Jorgenson: Making It Look Easy To Become An Olympic Athlete

Becoming an Olympic athlete takes years of dedication – most people have been practicing since they were very young, and still find themselves fighting year in and year out to call themselves a member of Team USA. Gwen Jorgensen? She did it in just under two years.

This will be Gwen's first Olympic appearance, just a year and a half after picking up the sport. (Image via USA Triathlon)

This is no surprise to those who know Gwen personally – let’s just say she has a history of being quick on the uptake.  She was a walk-on swimmer at the University of Madison, where she also walked onto the track team.  By her senior year, she was running track exclusively, and had won Big Ten championships in both the 5000 and 3000 meters.  Upon graduation, rather than pursuing her athletic passions, Gwen pursued her career passions, taking a position in accounting at prestigious Ernst & Young.

She had already been contacted while in college by Barb Lindquist, a retired Olympian herself, to join the Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program,  and had turned Barb down.  Barb stayed persistent even while Gwen was at Ernst & Young, and finally in 2009, upon urging from her boss, a triathlete himself, Gwen decided to give it a whirl.

She had already competed in a triathlon once, just for fun.  As reported in Sports Illustrated, she first dipped a toe in the water when she did a triathlon with her friend Maggie Lach, upon Maggie’s urging.  The only evidence that remains that the two ever participated is a photograph, and a few less than stellar memories.  Said Gwen, looking back on the photo where she was hunched over the handlebars of a large mountain bike, “I look ridiculous.  The seat is way, way too low and I’m pedaling with regular shoes.  I just look ridiculous.”  Despite her past history, she knew actually training to compete in professional triathlons would be even more taxing.

Picking up the triathlon – a 1.5 kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike race, and a 10-kilometer run – didn’t come as easy at first to Gwen.  “Growing up, I hated riding a bike. My parents had to bribe me with ice cream or some other treat to go on rides,” she told the LA Times.  Luckily for Gwen, cycling is often seen as the least critical of the three activities, since racers can help each other out by cycling in packs.  Her excellence in track and swimming were about to carry her far.

After just 17 months of racing, Gwen earned the first of the three spots on Team USA Triathlon.  She will be racing with fellow Team USA members Sarah Groff and Laura Bennett in London this summer.

Gwen had to relearn how to cycle to prepare for the 40-kilometer portion of the race. (Image via AP/Wayne Jones)


Her plans for after the Olympics are still uncertain – Ernst & Young is still holding her job for her in case her love of tax law wins out.  As her boss and mentor Mark Hellmer told ESPN, “She’s a very hard worker, she’s very smart.  She’s your classic overachiever, no two ways about it.”  That works for us – we’ll be helping push Gwen along in the water, on the bike, and on the track at the 2012 Olympics.

For the latest updates on the 2012 Olympic Games, follow @NBCOlympics and check for the full schedule of events.

Featured Image via NBC Olympics

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