Janel Jorgensen: Champion in the Water and in the Fight Against Cancer
Janel Jorgensen, member of the 1988 Olympic team and current member of U.S. Masters Swimming, has pursued a life-long career in the sport she loves. In an interview she speaks about her inspiration, her love for the sport of swimming, and her efforts to help her dear friend and coach, Richard Quick. Richard, one of the most decorated coaches in NCAA history, was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in December 2008. Swimming is "a part of who I am," said Janel, who has won multiple medals in international competition and held various American records. Janel is one of the many "heroes" within U.S. Masters Swimming and she hopes that the swimming community can rally for a coach that has meant so much to so many of us. Her interview is honest, endearing, and heartfelt.
U.S. Masters Swimmng: When did you begin swimming Masters?
Janel: Last year (2008) was my first year competing as a Masters swimmer.
U.S. Masters Swimming: Why did you decide to get back in?
Janel: Swimming is obviously a huge part of who I am and I missed the camaraderie and team aspect of the sport. A group of my old teammates from Wilton YMCA were beginning to get back into the sport and compete and they convinced me to join them. We swam in the YMCA Masters Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale. The Y Nationals were always such a huge part of my swimming growing up that I thought it would be fun to go back and compete-just a little slower.
U.S. Masters Swimming: Our numbers are at an all-time high, why do you think adult swimming has swept the country?
Janel: I, of course, am partial to swimming, but for everyone it is a fabulous sport for any age. Its affects on your body and your mind are powerful and I think more and more people are realizing this. Whether you swim 300 yards or 3000 yards, the benefits are rejuvenating.
U.S. Masters Swimming: What inspires you to swim?
Janel: The sheer love of the sport. The way it makes me feel free in the water, the sound of the bubbles as I breathe, the friendships and the amazing community of swimmers.
U.S. Masters Swimming: Who has been the most influential coach in your swimming career?
Janel: I was lucky enough to only have three coaches throughout my career. Aside from my father, all three were the most influential men in my life. The first was Chuck Warner who is the most sincere and dedicated coach. I was really young when he was coaching me, but I still remember his lessons. Chuck has been instrumental in getting the momentum rolling around our latest Swim Across America (SAA) event, Swim Quick (Janel currently works for Swim Across America and has been the champion for an event called Swim Quick which will honor Richard Quick and raise money for cancer research). Tim Murphy was my YMCA coach and instilled passion around swimming in a positive way. I was swimming with him when I made the Olympic team. He taught me that there were no barriers that couldn't be overcome. Richard Quick was my Stanford University coach and the coach of the 1988 Olympic team. He was full of positive energy every morning and every afternoon on the pool deck. He helped each and every swimmer realize her full potential in and out of the pool. All three [coaches] were, and still are, an important and profound part of my life.
U.S. Master Swimming: Did you know you would pursue a life-long career in swimming?
Janel: No. After I graduated from Stanford, I spent 13 years in "Corporate America." My job was rewarding, but there was always something missing. That something was the swimming community. When the opportunity to work for SAA presented itself, I just knew the timing was right. My father had also just been diagnosed with cancer so my personal reasons were heightened as well.
U.S. Masters Swimming: How exactly did you get involved with Swim Across America?
Janel: My friend's husband was a co-founder of SAA in 1987. We swam together on the Wilton Y Wahoos swim team back then and she asked me to swim in one of the SAA events. Over the years I've swum in numerous SAA fundraising open-water swims and was also actively involved on the Board of Directors. Then, three years ago, this opportunity for the Executive Director role became available and I have been intimately and passionately involved ever since.
U.S. Masters Swimming: What is Swim Across America?
Janel: SAA is a national organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment. Over 23 years, SAA has grown from a single event in Nantucket, Massuchutes to a national organization that hosts over ten major open-water swims across the entire country. To date, we have raised over $25 million in the fight against cancer. We are hoping to continue to grow and host pool swims as well.
SAA is currently working on an event called Swim Quick to recognize the impact that Coach Richard Quick has had on the swimming community. The event will be held Saturday February 14, 2009 and everyone is invited to participate at his or her local pool. Janel's efforts to create a successful event are motivated by her hopes and plans for SAA and its future as well as her personal friendship and care for her former coach. Janel shared her hopes for the program.
U.S. Masters Swimming: What do you hope to accomplish with Swim Quick?
Janel: We hope to accomplish a miracle. We hope that Richard and his family will feel the collective positive energy and love generated on February 14th. We hope to raise awareness for SAA and our events. We hope to raise money for a cure. We hope to get individuals across the world involved in our grassroots efforts to find a cure for this vicious disease. I received an email from a stranger who heard about our program. She simply wrote to thank us for organizing it. She said she so strongly believes in what we are doing and she has seen miracles like this happen. We are hoping for this kind of miracle for Richard.
U.S. Masters Swimming: What are your goals for the future of SAA?
Janel: To utilize the Swim Quick program as a launching pad for a national pool swim program across the nation. Coaches and swimmers across the nation will see how easy and fun it can be to raise money for the universal cause. We will continue to grow and reach out to the general public-to go beyond the swimming community and get all people involved. We hope to have SAA branded in the general consciousness and for SAA to be synonymous with curing cancer.
U.S. Masters Swimming is proud to share the water with a champion like Janel Jorgensen. To learn more about Swim Across American and its upcoming event, Swim Quick, visit www.swimacrossamerica.org.