Lifestylers: London Calling – 2012 Olympic Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen on Accounting, World Travel and Making a Splash

Editors note: this is the second in a two-part series interviewing US Olympic athletes on the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London

When the starting gun goes off for the women’s Olympic Triathlon on August 8 in London’s Hyde Park, Gwen Jorgensen will be worlds away from her desk at Ernst & Young. An accountant by day, Jorgensen will be plying a different trade, representing the United States in what’s expected to be one of the London games’ most visible events.

The Wisconsin native was a relative unknown when she finished second at the World University Championships in 2010. Since then Jorgensen has been on quite a ride, ascending to the top of the triathlon world in two short years. We sat down with her on the eve of her first Olympic games to chat about her amazingly rapid rise, accounting and of course, music.

“Bursting onto the scene” is certainly a cliché in sports, but if anyone embodies that sentiment, it’s you. Describe what it’s like gearing up to compete in the Olympics only two years after your first major international competition.

It has been quite an experience.  I have been swimming and running since I was eight, so in that regard, I’ve been training my whole life.  Qualifying for the Olympics was a bit unexpected, and I wasn’t quite prepared for everything that came with qualifying.  You think all you have to do is race and train; however there is a lot more to competing.  I feel incredibly blessed to have support of family, friends and sponsors.  When you see a success story, you know that it is not just one person creating that success.  I have a God-given talent in running and have had incredible support in swimming and cycling. I could not have qualified without the support and help of my teammates, family, sponsors and friends.  They are the ones who made this possible!

What part of the Olympic experience are you most looking forward to?

I love competing and the Olympics are the highest level of our sport.  I am excited to race against the best in the world and look forward to giving back to all those who have helped me get here.

It’s certainly not uncommon for Olympic athletes to work professionally in other fields as they pursue amateur athletics, but we haven’t heard of many accountants! What was your boss at Ernst & Young’s reaction when you asked for time off to compete in the Olympics? Reactions from the co-workers?

Ernst & Young has been extremely supportive since day one.  I worked full-time for a year, and then asked to work part time to pursue my athletic career.  My boss, Mark Hellmer, was behind me from the beginning and encouraging me to pursue both.  After I qualified, the company gave me a leave of absence.  I feel fortunate to be employed by such an incredible company!  My coworkers were always supportive and flexible as they knew my competition and training schedule.  I miss them, however we are still in contact and talk frequently.

Accounting and triathlon would seem to be quite different, and yet you excel in both. Any connections between the two? 

Oh, yes! I think there are many connections.  In order to be successful in life there are a few things that you must embody – discipline, hard work, dedication and a bit of perfectionism (at least that’s what has helped me).  My parents have taught me to work hard in whatever I do and to always give everything whilst pursing my passions.  This lesson can take you far in life.

Triathlon has taken you all over the globe. What’s been your favorite stop so far?

I love to travel because I love meeting new people, experiencing a new culture and trying new foods.  I enjoyed Hungary because I loved the cheap, delicious food.

If my information is correct, you ran and swam collegiately for the University of Wisconsin, earning All-American honors in both track and cross-country. Pretty impressive stuff. Was triathlon a natural next step for you? 

I wasn’t going to get involved in triathlon until USAT came to me (through their college recruitment program) and gave me an offer I couldn’t turn down: try triathlon and if I don’t like it stop at any time….I fell in love and here I am today, extremely grateful for this opportunity.

Being a Badger, ‘Jump Around’ probably ranks high on your list of favorite jock jams. We have your playlist, but what song would most want to hear as you cross the finish line in London?

The National Anthem.  Being able to represent the USA at the Olympics is an incredible honor and I am both honored and excited to represent the United States of America in London.

We’re guessing music isn’t a part of your swim training but how about cycling and running?

Funny thing – I don’t own an iPod, so don’t list to music much while I work out–I find my training partners much too interesting! However, I do love music.  It can change a mood instantly, and the sort of creativity it takes to create is remarkable.  I started playing the violin at age five and it gave me an incredible appreciation for music/artistic creation. I don’t have TV or cable so I often use music as a way to relax when I’m at home.  My favorite thing is to chop vegetables and prep a meal while listening to my favorite tunes.

Thanks for taking the time.  There’ll definitely be a few Lienenkugels hoisted in your honor back home and we’ll be pulling for you as well!

Thank you for your time and your support.  I can’t thank my sponsors, family and friends enough.  If you would like to learn more about me, please follow me on twitter (@gwenjorgensen), facebook (fanpage: Gwen Jorgensen) or my website (www.gwenjorgensen.com). Thank you and God Bless.

To hear Gwen’s playlist, click here