Waukesha, Wisconsin-born triathlete Gwen Jorgensen is a bit of an Olympic anomaly. Like fellow U.S. athlete Phil Dalhausser, Jorgensen was always involved in athletics, but started late in the game in her own sport. “I grew up swimming, I’ve swum competitively since age eight, and I also have a God-given talent in running. I swam and ran in college,” Jorgensen said in our exclusive interview. But she wasn’t recruited for the triathlon until two years ago. “The USA Triathlon came to me in 2010 and kind of recruited me into the sport, and they gave me so much support. I’ve been able to qualify for the Olympics in less than two years, and it’s just been an incredible journey that I feel really fortunate about.”

Although Jorgensen had competed in running and swimming in college, she admits she needed some training in cycling. “My first time on the bike was after I graduated college, and I was tipping over constantly,” Jorgensen revealed to USA Today about being faced with the seemingly impossible task of starting from scratch for a 43-kilometer bike ride — only one part of the triathlon event that also includes a 1,500 meter swim and 10K run. Her boyfriend, professional cyclist Patrick Lemieux, no doubt had tips to offer. But it was a hard sell at first. “It was something that I didn’t really want to do. … When I thought of triathlon, I thought of Ironman and that wasn’t really something that interested me,” Jorgensen confessed.

Although hesitant at first, Jorgensen finally came around: she took a leave of absence from her accounting job at Ernst & Young to train for the Olympics, and eventually became Triathlon rookie of the year and second-place winner at London’s qualifying events. So how did Jorgensen make up for lost time? “There’s a lot that goes into an event. I have a coach, and we really try to lay out a long-term plan, Jorgensen told Uinterview. “Normally, I’m doing six days of swimming a week, six days of biking a week and five days of running a week, and it’s something we have to prepare for mentally, physically. Nutrition, everything plays a factor into it.” Although she has been training full-time for two years now, Jorgensen admits she still frets before races. “I’d like to say I never get nervous for an event, but you know, a lot of times there are nerves, and a lot of times they’re good nerves. Having a little bit of nerves is good — it helps get that excitement and adrenaline going, and something that helps make an event special and different than workouts.”

Jorgensen raced in the challenging triathlon event earlier this week, finishing 38th due to an unfortunate flat tire during the cycling event — a rare incident that is hard to recover from. Although frustrated by her bad luck, Jorgensen is still proud to have participated. “Representing the United States of America is just an incredible honor. It’s something that, I think, brings the entire world together,” Jorgensen reflected in our interview. “And to be able to have something that brings the countries [together], to be able to support these athletes, it’s something that I feel a lot of pride in.”

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