Swimmers at St. Paul's Highland Aquatic Center unwittingly have been sharing pool time with an Olympic medal contender.
Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen pays her entry fee and tries to navigate the chaotic lap swim with the weekend warriors at the outdoor 50-meter pool. A lack of lane lines or etiquette instructions at the pool means inexperienced, inattentive swimmers can go astray and, without knowing it, brush against an Olympian.
Even though she's well-known in the triathlon community, Jorgensen goes unnoticed at Highland despite her elite 5-foot-10, 125-pound frame and smooth, swift freestyle.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm ... famous, but it's not like I go to Target and people know who I am," she said. "If I'm around swimmers, bikers [and] triathletes and I introduce myself, sometimes people will say, 'Oh, you're Gwen Jorgensen!' But other than that, it's not too bad -- thankfully. I love going outside and seeing everyone. It's an active city, and something that keeps me happy and motivated."
Her low-key presence at the Highland pool is ironic given that city lifeguards there learned earlier this month they didn't win a contest promising a visit from Olympic gold medalist swimmer Cullen Jones. Then in May, Jorgensen moved to St. Paul to be near her boyfriend, Mankato native Pat Lemieux, a professional cyclist.
She doesn't have a gold medal -- yet -- but Jorgensen is a bona fide Olympian with a legitimate chance at a medal. (She finished second in a race last summer on the same course.) She punches her ticket to London on July 25 to participate in the Opening Ceremony. She then will train until her Aug. 4 race begins in Hyde Park. The triathlon starts with a 1,500-meter swim followed by a 43-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run. Competitors take just under two hours to finish the endurance contest.
Jorgensen trains in each discipline five to six days a week. Usually, she swims with the University of Minnesota teams. Some days, she hits the YWCA in St. Paul for her swim. The Waukesha, Wis., native ran and swam competitively for the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She ran her first triathlon just over two years ago.
Jorgensen, 26, now lives in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood and said she loves the lakes for her dry-land training.
Her swimming mileage ranges from 2 miles to 3-plus miles a day.
"I train at Highland on my easy days. I love the pool, just wish lap swim was a little longer during the day," Jorgensen said. The pool opens for an hour of lap swim each weekend day and 80 minutes on weekdays.
She's noticeable when she does flip-turns before the wall. "I think it helps strength-wise to sometimes flip and start from a dead stop," she said.
City parks staff wasn't aware Jorgensen is training in St. Paul. "It's pretty darn cool we have an Olympian training at an outdoor municipal pool," parks spokesman Brad Meyer said. "Although Ms. Jorgensen has never asked for any special treatment from the city, we're proud to have her call our pool home, and she'll definitely have our full support in this summer's games."
Jorgensen occasionally hangs out at the pool for a bit of the open swim, and she's always got time to chat with kids. "Of course they can say hi," she said. "It's good to keep them motivated and active."
When she's not training, Jorgensen frequents the Minneapolis Farmers Market. She's a fan of breakfast at the Highland Grill. In the off-season, she likes a burger and beer at Groveland Tap with dessert at Izzy's Ice Cream.
Follow her on Twitter: @gwenjorgensen.
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson