We sat down with the gold medal winner to discuss training for the Olympics, Punch Pizza, and why St. Paul is still home base.
In the venn diagram of tax accounting and Olympic triathlon, there may only be one overlap—St. Paul resident Gwen Jorgensen. She was the surprise guest speaker for Ernst and Young Employees as a part of the company’s service-oriented Connect Day—but the difference between her and any other sports star is that she used to be one of the crowd at EY. “When USA Triathlon recruited me to the sport, I said ‘I have a job at Ernst and Young, I want to do that!'” she said, to much laughter. “Yeah…I guess it might seem stupid now.”
After she rallied the accounting crowds, we sat down to see how post-winnning-a-gold-medal life is going, and what keeps her coming back to the Twin Cities.
Congrats on the gold medal! You’ve gone from working in tax accounting, having never ridden a road bike in 2010, to winning a gold medal for triathlon in 2016. What is it like to go on that kind of trajectory in just six years?
When USA Triathlon first approached me, I didn’t think I could be a world-class athlete and I didn’t believe in myself, but I’m glad that I listened to those encouraging me and took their support. Looking back on this experience, the most surprising thing is how good I’ve gotten! It’s been a huge surprise to have the success I’ve had.
I’d never ridden a road bike before 2010, so it was pretty crazy to get on one in 2010 and try to learn to ride. I was falling over at stop signs because I couldn’t unclip, and just had to learn all the basic things. For me, it’s something that I still struggle with, on the bicycle I have a fear of going too fast or getting in a crash, and that’s something that I’ve had to overcome these past few years. It’s been a pretty incredible journey to go from having never ridden a road bike to being an Olympic gold medalist in a sport that involves riding a road bike.
I saw that you’ve worked with Red Bull on biking, what was it like working with a team known for being extreme?
I’m super fortunate to have sponsors that help me throughout my career—not only financially so I can do this as a full-time job, but they also help me improve as an athlete and help me be the best I can be. Red Bull approached me and asked if there was anything I needed help with, and I said I needed to work on overcoming my fear on the bike. So they set up this whole entire camp where they brought in Eric Bostrum who used to ride motorcycles professionally. He put me on the back of his motorcycle and we were going at speeds where I was just screaming because I was so scared. It was very nerve-wracking—we pushed the limit way beyond what I would ever need to do in a race, so when I was in a race, I wouldn’t be scared because I was more comfortable. They brought in Tour De France Yellow Jersey winners and they rode the bike with me and gave me tips, you know, scan the horizon, keep your weight on the outside foot, just little things that could help me in my journey of overcoming my fear in riding the bike.
Now that things are calming down a bit, do you think you’ll be in Minnesota more?
I think this year we are planning to spend at least one extra month here. Normally I head out of the U.S. December 27 and I don’t come back until September. This year, we’ll definitely stay here through December or January, and kind of make a decision in January. We are trying to have a kid, if I get pregnant, I’ll stay here ’til I give birth, probably. My husband and I want to buy a house this year, we’re looking in the Twin Cities area and a little bit in Duluth, but I think we want to stay in the Cities.
What keeps you coming back Minnesota?
That’s a good question, I travel all over the globe. I’m away from home nine months out of the year. One year I competed on every continent other than Antarctica. I chose to be in tax accounting at Ernst and Young because I didn’t want to travel. Now I’m only home 50 days a year.
I love living in St. Paul, the community is really welcoming. Something I always forget about when I go abroad and then come back is how active the community is. When I go out to go on a bike ride or a run, I just have a huge smile on my face because there’s so many people out there commuting to work or having fun getting out there and exercising, and that’s something that I really love about the Twin Cities. I guess I also proclaim myself to be a foodie, and I think the Twin Cities has some of the best restaurants in the United States, so it’s always fun to come back and try new restaurants, and go to some old favorites.
And those old favorites? Where do you always stop when you’re in town?
When I came back to the Twin Cities, my first stop was Punch Pizza, and my second was Izzy’s Ice Cream. Those are ones that I definitely miss when I’m abroad, as well as Red Table Meat, which I really enjoy.
How is it making the transition from traveling the world to being back in St. Paul?
It’s been pretty crazy, I’ve actually only been here this year for three nights. But it’s awesome to come back, because you come back and everything is normal. I know where the grocery stores are, I know where to run, I know where to bike. It’s just such a great community and everyone has been so welcoming, it’s a great place for me to be. When I land in the Twin Cities, it just feels like home. I think it doesn’t matter how much time you spend away, when you come home, it’s home, and you’re happy, and it’s really really awesome.