Gwen Jorgensen: The Olympian

Kevin Zacher

Kevin Zacher

City Pages' People Issue celebrates men and women who make Minnesota a better place to live.

When she crossed the finish line, a sinewy 5-foot-10 Gwen Jorgensen stretched the colorful banner between her hands before breaking down into sobs. She had just become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the triathlon.

An hour and 56 minutes earlier, she stood on a beach of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, flanked by 54 of the world’s elite female triathletes. At 30 years old, and a relative newcomer to the sport, she was about to muscle through the most grueling triad of physical activity: swimming 0.93 miles, biking 25 miles, running 6.2 miles.

It’s possible she was thinking of her grandfather Stanley, the first person she believed when he suggested she could become an Olympian someday. Or perhaps she was considering the nine months of training, the dedication of her husband Patrick, the support of her coach and her family. Maybe she was just ready to suffer.

“I love suffering,” Jorgensen says. “Not everyone can push beyond those limits when everything in your mind and body is working against you to stop and rest, but I thrive off of those moments.”

Back home in St. Paul, Jorgensen wakes up and rides her bike to one of the many nearby coffee shops to catch up on the kind of work that doesn’t involve drills and sprints. Though her training diet is the protein-packed health food you would expect (eggs, oatmeal, yogurt, peanut butter), Jorgensen says she and her husband, Patrick, love to explore new restaurants in the cities, as well as old favorites like Punch Pizza and Izzy’s Ice Cream.

“I have traveled all over the world and can say that the Twin Cities tends to be highly underrated as a city for having great food,” she says.

Not that she gets much time to explore: Between “various sponsor obligations and speaking engagements, I have yet to be in my St. Paul home for longer than five days in a row.”

Instead, the former Ernst & Young tax accountant spends her days swimming, running, and biking. Before the Rio Olympics, she lived three-quarters of the year in Australia and Spain, following the warm weather for training.

Which isn’t to say Jorgensen doesn’t struggle with motivation as much as the next person.

“There are a lot of days when I don’t even want to get out of bed. But then I remember all those invested in me — my husband and coach and family support — and then I get motivated to train. I’m stubborn and believe I can always get more out of myself.”

When the punishing workouts stop, and Jorgensen looks for a welcoming spot to land, Minnesota is home. She might even stick around for a bit while she tackles her next big goal.

“I would like to start a family,” she says. “Winning the Olympics was a goal, but my dream is to have a family.”

Click here to see other entries in this year's City Pages People Issue.