When U.S. Olympic triathlete Gwen Jorgensen enters the stadium for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony Friday night, she will not only carry the banner of USA, but CPA.
Her role at Ernst & Young means a balancing act of her tax staff responsibilities with a training schedule that is just as divided, between the sports of swimming, running and cycling. Jorgensen credits the Big Four firm’s flexibility—and early morning hours—with providing her the chance to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“I have had a ton of support throughout my journey and I am incredibly blessed,” Jorgensen said via email. “I've had an amazing journey. Everyone that I meet is welcoming, supportive and helpful. I never fully believed I would qualify for the Olympics; however, others were always behind me.”
That support team included her boss, Mark Hellmer, who helped facilitate her part-time schedule, and her mentor, Megan Miller, she added.
An NCAA swimmer and runner for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jorgensen’s current journey began when USA Triathlon recruited her upon graduation in 2009—after she had accepted a position at Ernst & Young. Initially reluctant to take on the challenge of juggling both, the firm set up a flexible work arrangement and she completed and won her first triathlon in 2010.
Her first-place finish was achieved with an 80 percent reduced work schedule. She continued toting her laptop abroad, going on to win the 2011 World Cup 18 months later with a 50 percent, and then 20 percent schedule, before taking a leave of absence last winter to train down south.
“When I was working, I'd wake up, swim from about 5:30-7 a.m., run for about an hour, head to work at Ernst & Young, come home, go for a bike ride, lift, and go to bed,” she explained. “Now that I'm on a leave, I'm able to recover more in between workouts...and sleep in more, which spoils me.”
She recorded her second World Cup victory at 2012 Banyoles (Spain) Triathlon in June, with her Milwaukee office cheering her on.
“My coworkers have been extremely understanding and helpful with my flexible work arrangement, and now leave,” she said. “I feel blessed to have this support. My coworkers also follow my triathlon career and are always excited about how I do in my competitions.”
They will continue to track her progress in London, as one of the 55 female triathletes going for gold August 4.
“I expect a tough, hard race where I'm going to suffer...a lot!” Jorgensen said. “I am looking forward to having my support crew there and experiencing everything the Games have to offer.”
She also has advice for other CPAs looking to balance their passions and professional lives: “Be proactive and don't be afraid to ask for support. The more you communicate with your team members, the easier it is for not only you, but your coworkers.”
That attitude has served her well in her hopeful path to the podium, she continued.
“Some think you need to focus solely on [either work or a training schedule] to be successful; however, I believe the balance keeps me motivated, diverse and active.”