February 10, 2020 § 16 Comments
By Nancy Jorgensen and Elizabeth Jorgensen
Stubbornness runs in our family. I, Nancy, started it all. While my female relatives were all stay-at-home moms, I took my daughters to preschool so I could teach high school choir and direct Broadway-style musicals.
My daughter Gwen inherited the trait. While her university peers crawled beer pubs, she stubbornly renounced drinking in favor of top grades and 5K race times.
After college, Gwen practiced stubbornness in professional sports. She said she wanted to win Olympic gold in triathlon. Most experts said she couldn’t do it, but when it looked like she might, I decided to write a book about it.
I asked my other daughter, Elizabeth, to partner with me. Given Elizabeth’s dedication to teaching public school creative writing, publishing her own poetry, and staying fit with a personal trainer, I knew she had the requisite stubbornness. Together, we outlined our family story about support, determination, and finding lessons in failure. We designed chapters that would inspire young women to pursue their own dreams. We wrote the book in two voices, each offering our own point of view. We described Gwen’s journey with coaches, sponsors, and agents. With nutrition, training, and drug testing. With wins and crashes and DNF’s.
When we marketed our book, literary agents and publishers criticized everything about it. The two voices don’t work—Sportsbooks don’t sell unless the athlete is high-profile—Sportsbooks don’t sell unless the sport is high-profile—No one will read a story about an Olympian’s family.
Elizabeth and I stubbornly clung to our vision. We couldn’t write someone else’s concept. We could only write our own story. So, we joined a writers’ workshop, collaborated with beta readers, and hired a marketing coach. We revised our query letter, added an epilogue, and sent more pitches. We kept our book in two voices, written by an Olympian’s family, about an obscure sport.
For months, we looked for responses that never came, fielded rejections with familiar complaints, and got one offer from a vanity press we had mistakenly pitched.
After six years of writing and revising, one editor liked our pitch. She steered us to the publisher who believed in our idea and we signed a contract with Meyer & Meyer Sport. Our book, Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey To Olympic Gold, is now in print.
As we read the reviews, a theme emerges. Almost always, the reviewer praises our family perspective and unusual two-voice narrative. Contradicting agents and editors, readers say, “I found myself unable to put the book down, always wanting to hear the other’s perspective, too.” And, “This unique perspective was the best aspect of the book.” Agents assumed a sportsbook must be about something high profile, but readers say, “Each person from elite athlete to armchair athlete can take something away from this family’s journey” and “…highly engaging throughout as I learned about the sport of triathlon, something I didn’t know much about.”
We had a burst of sales, and for one day on Amazon, we were the number-one selling book in triathlon. But sales have leveled off. And now we stubbornly pursue our marketing plan. We speak at libraries, triathlon clubs, and schools. We do interviews on podcasts, public radio shows, and 6 a.m. television spots. We write blog posts, submit essays, and request reviews. And we have an idea for a new book. We are stubborn about writing and publishing that one too.
Nancy and Elizabeth Jorgensen are the co-authors of Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold. Other co-authored pieces include a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel travel piece and a forthcoming article for Edutopia. Nancy has co-written two choral education books, Things They Never Taught You In Choral Methods and From The Trenches: Real Insights From Real Choral Educators. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine, Cagibi, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Elizabeth Jorgensen, a Wisconsin high school English teacher, is published in Azalea (Harvard University), The Wisconsin English Journal, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Find out more at NancyJorgensen.weebly.com and LizJorgensen.weebly.com
September 4, 2019 § 16 Comments
by Nancy Jorgensen
My daughter Gwen is on the start line, leaning, left foot forward toward the waters of Copacabana Beach. She has devoted every day of the last four years to the next two hours. It is 90 degrees Fahrenheit and windy, and she intends to win this Rio 2016 Olympic triathlon race.
My other daughter, Elizabeth, and I spy Gwen’s husband Patrick. “How is she? How are you?”
Patrick tucks back his wavy hair, calm, confident, composed. “She’s great. We’re feeling good. All she has to do is have an average day.”
I knew what he meant. Gwen didn’t wish for ideal weather, optimal race tactics, or a once-in-a lifetime race. She prepared for choppy water, a competitor’s breakaway, and dangerous descents. Every day, she practiced the required skills. She only had to replicate those today.
Gwen may have been born with the physical characteristics and mental discipline of an athlete but she believes success is not found in talent or a single standout day. Success results from consistency: weekly, daily, hourly deliberation. From habits: workouts, nutrition, recovery. From collaboration: with coaches, therapists, teammates.
In the London 2012 triathlon, Gwen punctured her tire and finished 38th. She didn’t quit. She decided to win gold in Rio. To accomplish that, she adopted the attitude of “average everyday”— incremental daily progress, converting good practices into habits that achieve best outcomes.
I try to write the same way. With consistency every week, even when I’m busy or tired or traveling. Every morning, from eight to eleven. Every hour, resisting the pull of emails, Facebook and Twitter.
I try to convert practice into habit. With workouts of five hundred words a day and submissions each week. With reading fiction and nonfiction, reading harder, reading diverse voices. With recovery on the StairMaster, walks in the park, and friend and family time.
Gwen surrounds herself with coaches and staff who make her better. My own coaches are a writers’ workshop, online blogs, and websites. My therapists are a husband, supportive friends and encouraging family members. My teammates are a partner to edit my work, workshop classmates to discover my best and worst, and a writing coach to steer me toward markets.
In Rio, Gwen swam with the current, rode with the front pack, ran side by side against the defending Olympic champion—and won Olympic gold. We celebrated with her in Rio, celebrated again at home and celebrate now. I still can’t believe I am the mother of an Olympic gold medalist.
After Rio, Gwen birthed a baby, transitioned to marathon, and had surgery for Haglund’s deformity—three new challenges she approaches with the same discipline. With patience for her body, trust in the processes and a belief that hard work is not sacrifice but investment.
Again, I use her example. To be patient when rejections outnumber acceptances. To trust that writing, editing and submitting will lead to best results. To decide that the hours each day are not a sacrifice but an investment.
So far, I have published a few books and several essays. My words don’t represent the best on the planet like an Olympic win, but I still celebrate. And then I go back to work.
Elizabeth, who is my writing partner, asked for an edit this week. I sent corrections, we conferred and she prepared her submission. “Any other advice?” she said.
“Yes. Have an average day.”
Nancy Jorgensen is a musician and writer. Go, Gwen, Go, her 2019 memoir of daughter Gwen Jorgensen’s journey from CPA to 2016 Olympic Champion, is published by Meyer & Meyer Sport. Her choral education books are published by Hal Leonard Corporation and Lorenz Corporation.