By Elizabeth Jorgensen
I lecture my students to scour life for dramatic moments, emotional scenes or frightening experiences and write their own stories. I say their lives are filled with gripping tales, just waiting to be told. So when my sister qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games, suffered a flat tire in the triathlon and proclaimed her goal to win gold in 2016, I decided to take my own advice and write the story. But the tale was so big I needed a book. I partnered with my mom, Nancy Jorgensen, who has published two of her own books (From the Trenches: Real Insights from Real Choral Educators and Things they Never Taught you in Choral Methods). In alternating voices, my mom, Nancy (Gwen’s mother) and I (her sister), narrate our family’s journey to Olympic gold.
Along the way, Gwen earned the World Champion title. Twice. And she came into the Rio Olympic games the favorite. In a Sports Illustrated piece, Austin Murphy said, “…Jorgensen has emerged as the International Triathlon Union’s equivalent of Usain Bolt.”
My mom and I are now finishing the last chapters of our memoir. As the book follows Gwen’s Olympic journey, we intersperse flashbacks and anecdotes, revealing a family story that fostered an dream. The process has mirrored what I teach in my classroom: the editing process is never done, collaboration and revising are keys to success, and the publishing industry hands out rejections far more frequently than book deals.
The process also brought my mom and me together—we collaborate daily, writing, editing, polishing. Sharing this process with my students allows them a firsthand account of writing and publishing. I have also shared rejection letters and excerpts with my class. Each time, students express appreciation and intrigue: their teacher is a writer too; writing is a process we all struggle with.
My students enjoy how this is a book about the magic of possibility—that a 24-year-old accountant could remake her life into a dramatic athletic career. The book explores themes of risk, the courage to invent a new life focus, and the unconditional family support that makes extraordinary accomplishments possible. Our memoir introduces readers to a young woman of modest athletic achievements who uses extraordinary desire and discipline to achieve the ultimate in sport. It is an uplifting story of a family who quells doubts to believe in one daughter’s dream. Readers enter the secret world of Olympic training, professional coaching, international travel, sponsor funding, anti-doping requirements, athlete nutrition, and sports physiotherapy. They are privy to the personal life of a professional athlete, complete with family medical crises, weddings and divorces and holiday celebrations. In this story, Gwen Jorgensen, Mom and I travel together, from average to Olympian.
We have had some interest from publishers—and this too is something I’m able to share with my classes. We are work-shopping the book with the AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop in Waukesha and we continue to send our proposal and manuscript out via Gwen’s agent. But we have yet to procure a deal…