Jorgensen's journey included chance meeting in Milwaukee
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Even before he dismounted his bike on that snowy Minnesota morning three years ago to ask Gwen Jorgensen if she'd be his wife, Patrick Lemieux issued an equally unexpected proposal: He would abandon his pro cycling career to be her ''house husband.''
She was taken aback both times - and twice she said yes.
While viewers of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics are taking to social media to slam what they perceive as sexist portrayals of some of the world's greatest athletes, Jorgensen fiercely credits her husband's role in her emergence as the world's top female triathlete.
''Patrick is vital to my success,'' said Jorgensen, the two-time defending ITU world champion and the favorite in the women's Olympic triathlon this weekend.
She said she never could have left her family in the Midwest to train and tour overseas for nine months a year and keep crushing races were it not for Lemieux quitting the Kenda 5-Hour Energy pro cycling team after two seasons to serve as her compass, chef and chauffer.
''He provides the mental support,'' Jorgensen said. ''He also does all the little things like the cooking and cleaning and he goes to the grocery store.''
All of which would otherwise add up over time to sap the mental, physical and emotional energy required to stay on top of the world.
''So,'' Jorgensen said, ''I'm really fortunate.''
While others in their circle look at the couple through envious eyes, Lemieux raises plenty of eyebrows in a society that grapples with gender roles.
''I don't have a `job,' for some people, that's hard for them to grasp. But once you explain it they go, `I get it. Like, wow! OK, cool,''' Lemieux said Wednesday while watching the U.S. women's swim practice at the Flamengo Club not far from the triathlon course on Copacabana Beach where the men race Thursday.
''Yeah, of course, it's a really easy punchline for a story like, `Guy stays at home, works for his wife. But it's much more than that for us.''
Their lives crossed - and changed - during a chance encounter in 2011 in Milwaukee, where Jorgensen was at accountant at Ernst & Young and trying to see if this new sport she'd been recruited to a year earlier was her bag.
Lemieux happened upon a Wednesday night group bike ride while in town for a night. He joined the peloton and recognized his friend, Tom Schuler, who asked Lemieux if he'd give some advice to Jorgensen.
Although she was a track All-American and swam for three years at the University of Wisconsin, Jorgensen had only been riding for a year.
Jorgensen agreed to go out to dinner.
Without breaking, Lemieux let go of the handlebars, sat up and casually tapped her number into his cellphone.
''I thought that was very impressive.''
''Yeah, that was like doing a wheelie, I guess.''
They soon began dating and a year later Lemieux was visiting Jorgensen in Madrid. He had a race to get back to in the U.S., but told her he wasn't going to use the ticket. She needed an operations manager to allow her to take that next step and he knew just the guy.
''He told me, `I'm going to be quitting cycling to be with you the whole time.' I was like, `Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You need to think about this.' I was actually more hesitant than him. He had been thinking about it and this was just a shock to me and I said I don't want you to have any regrets or I want you to follow your passion, as well, and he said, `No, I've made my decision and I'm going to be there with you.'''
''It was really clear to see. I was very pragmatic about my ability in the sport and it was clear to see that Gwen had already surpassed the highest level that I would reach. So, for me to quit that was more the emotions of leaving my friends pretty much. Cycling's pretty tough. It wasn't something that I was really prepared to keep investing in to get the returns on my performance that I wanted. So, that decision, people say, `Oh, that's tough, giving up your career.' But I'm really at peace with it. I've never once turned back and said I wish I could go back. I miss riding my bike sometimes when the weather's nice for four, five, six hours. But the racing part of it, I don't miss it at all.''
Falling in love had revealed a hatred in his life.
''Yeah, it's just a terrible sport, cycling,'' Lemieux said. ''It's really dangerous. All of it, the high speed. When you think about it, Novak Djokovic, when he goes out to play, he's never going to lose his life. When the road cyclists go out, they might die and that's a really confronting thing in that sport. And it just wasn't fun for me anymore.''
So, they were officially a team, and as 2013 was winding down, Lemieux and Jorgensen were back home in St. Paul, Minnesota, when they went on another memorable bike ride. As they approached the Ford Parkway Bridge, he suggested they stop and take a photo. ''I remember getting off my bike and thinking it really wasn't that pretty that day because it was actually the first snowfall and you really couldn't see a view of the river,'' Jorgensen said.
''You know, I'm always going to love you,'' he said.
''You can't say these things unless you mean it,'' she interrupted.
''OK, well, what if I do this,'' he said as he got down on a knee.
To say Jorgensen was swept off her feet doesn't do justice to the moment.
''I was shocked and I took a step back and slipped and fell on the ice,'' Jorgensen said. ''But, yeah, I was fine.''
As a team, Jorgensen won an unprecedented dozen consecutive races between May 2014 and April 2016, securing consecutive ITU world championships before cutting back on her schedule this year with an Olympic gold medal in mind.
''I love having Patrick around,'' she said. ''He's there every day. It's an advantage for me and Pat, he's the world's best caretaker. Because he comes from sport, he knows what I need, so I don't even ask for things. He just always knows.''
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