Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Gwen Jorgensen is essentially an overnight sensation.
The Waukesha South graduate is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics in London, representing the United States in the triathlon. The multifaceted athlete has always enjoyed sports-related endeavors, finding success as a swimmer during her days at South and later competing in swimming, cross country and track and field at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
But she ran her first triathlon in March 2010. Just more than two years later, she’ll be running (and biking and swimming) with the entire world watching after she took second place (first among Americans) at the ITU World Championships on Aug. 6 in London, the highest finish by an American woman ever. The result qualified her for the Olympics.
Life has become a whirlwind ever since for Jorgensen, 25, with media requests, training and other preparation to follow as she ramps up for the ultimate experience. She took the time to answer a few questions on the subject.
You’re training in Clermont, Fla. right now; what are some components of your workout regimen?
Right now it’s kind of base building and really working on my weaknesses and making them my strengths, working on my cycling and swimming. One of the things I did in Colorado Springs was a strength assessment so I can hone in on muscles and flexibility for the bike and the swim. Now’s the time to get in the weight room because I’m not racing again until March. I found a training group in Clermont, and we help each other out with bike rides; we swim together, run together.
What made Florida such an attractive training destination?
There’s a great training center here, a national one – it’s not where Olympic athletes can come and train for free but they have everything you need: an outdoor pool, a really nice track facility and training partners. In London, there’s a very good chance it’s going to be cold and rainy. If I want to go somewhere and train like that, I’d have to go out of the country, and that’s a big step. I’m really comfortable where I can be close enough to family and take a plane ride and be back in the same day. That’s one of the balances I want in my life. I’m trying to have fun and do what makes it fun because that will produce the best outcome.
My coach (Cindi Bannink of Madison) and I communicate daily on the phone or over the Internet. She uploads workouts and we email, we Skype, we are constantly in contact with each other.
Do you have any events remaining before London?
My first race is in Clermont, which is awesome. There’re hardly any races in the U.S. even, so to have one where I’m staying is amazing. I might go over to Australia, I might do two over there. There’s a San Diego race in May which is kind of a big one – it’s the first time the U.S. is hosting a World Championship Series race, which is the highest level of triathlon. It’s all going to depend how my body is dealing with travel and recovery and stuff. It takes more out of my body to travel than the actual race.
This has all happened so fast. Has the sudden rise been overwhelming to you ever?
That’s definitely something that has been a huge adjustment for me. I have a great support system, and definitely couldn’t have gotten through the past couple months without the support, with my family. It’s definitely overwhelming but it’s so exciting and something that comes with a package. I’ve become more comfortable with it; it’s no longer stressful, I guess.
Of all the stories that have been done, have any really opened your eyes to your rise to fame?
I think it still hasn’t hit me. I wake up in the morning and sometimes I think, ‘Really? I’m going to the Olympics? I got second in a world event? That didn’t happen, there were people (top runners) that weren’t there or something.’ The reality of it definitely has not sunk in yet. I love triathlon, and that’s why I’m in it, and I try to keep that in perspective.
Has it gotten to the point where anyone recognizes you yet?
I find that a lot if I’m doing something somewhere where it’s triathlon or running focus, if I go to a triathlon event. I talk to local running groups and go back to my high school, but I’m not getting noticed when I’m going into the mall, which I’m really thankful for. I don’t know how people in the really high-profile sports do it. I want triathlon to become more high profile, but not too many people know about it, they think about Ironman. It’s something I hope I can bring more awareness to people just by getting media attention, but it’s really nice to not be in a high profile sport.
What are some aspects of the Olympic experience that you’re most looking forward to?
It’s all about the experience and trying to live out the Olympic spirit. It’s something that brings the whole world together, a celebration, and I’m really excited to go there and experience it.
The story has been told a lot that a friend from high school (Maggie Lach) is the one who talked you into that first triathlon in 2010. What has her reaction been to all of this?
She is thrilled. She already bought her ticket and is flying out to London along with some of her other friends. She loves it, and she’s always been a great friend of mine. We’re still really close and see each other when we’re home. We’re friends and we’ve always been friends, nothing’s been changed, and it’s great I was able to experience my first triathlon with her.
Do you have any favorite hometown training spots?
I love training in Milwaukee, I really do. I think it’s so beautiful. I love running along the lake because you have the beauty and serenity of the lake and these beautiful houses, too. I could do that same running route day after day after day, and I did, and I never got sick of it. I would work out with a Marquette University team; I always had someone to bike with and run with. It makes it so much more enjoyable.
How have you balance your training schedule with your full-time job at Ernst and Young in Milwaukee?
They have been great support and super flexible with me. I can travel to races abroad and I can come back to the office or work remotely; it’s a huge blessing. I couldn’t have gotten through the past couple years without that financial flexibility. They let me take a leave of absence. After I qualified, I signed with an agent, and I’m hoping to get some sponsorships and lighten the load, but I never really view triathlon as a job; I don’t really worry or think about the money. I know triathlon won’t last forever; I’m so lucky to have a great education and background to be able to do that. I feel lucky that I have a couple passions in my life.
Talk about your time competing at Waukesha South a little bit.
I grew up swimming with the Waukesha Express (club team) and with the high school, and I was super obsessed with the sport. If I was going to get grounded (at home) or I did something wrong, my parents would say, ‘You can’t go to swimming.’ I really wanted to go to practice every day. The track coach convinced me to run outdoor track, and he let me go to swimming workouts and go to a few track workouts and track meets.
I saw (South coach) Blaine Carlson after they won state (this past year), and he’s worked so hard. They had a new pool since I got out, and I think they broke every school record, including one of mine, which is so exciting. It’s so great to see the improvement.
Pictured: Gwen Jorgensen celebrates in London after qualifying for the Olympics in August, taking second in the ITU triathlon and recording the highest-ever finish for an American woman in the event. (Delly Carr/ITU)