GRAND ISLAND – There’s no denying Audrey Jensen is active.
She is a fourth-grade teacher at Wasmer Elementary, and she teaches a course at Doane College. She also teaches several fitness classes at the YMCA, and she tutors on the side. Others might recognize her from her roles with the Grand Island Little Theatre, and she is involved at Third City Christian Church.
But though some might consider all of Jensen’s involvements a little crazy, she likes the balance of keeping busy. That drive is the same reason she fell in love with competing in triathlons, and this summer, she aims to complete an Ironman and compete in a national Olympic-distance triathlon.
“I just love being involved and active, and so I just like to push myself,” Jensen said. “And I think that’s why (triathlons) are so appealing, because you can’t be solid in just one. You have to be able to do all.”
Jensen’s intensity as a competitor is not new.
In high school in Minden, she was all-state in both basketball and volleyball.
Ed Rowse, the volleyball coach at Minden, remembers her well.
Jensen was one of the hardest workers, Rowse said, and she would often stay late to correct things on the court. Her nickname, he said, was “the warrior,” and everyone knew when Jensen was there, it was game on.
“It seems like anything she goes into, she goes into with her whole heart,” Rowse said.
Jensen carried that attitude into college, where she played Division I volleyball in Montana. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Jensen taught for a year at Centura before moving to Grand Island.
But though Jensen remained active, she never expected what came next.
She thought she would be a gym rat her whole life, she said, but when she saw information about a sprint triathlon at the YMCA in 2014, she decided to try something different.
Jensen always loved swimming and was a lifeguard, she said, but she had never swam competitively.
She called Melanie Horky, the aquatics director at the Y, and Horky invited her to come to Masters Swim Team.
The first practice was on a Tuesday, Jensen said, and she barely made it through. On Saturday, she came back to the pool and did it again.
“I couldn’t believe that something could beat me,” she said.
Since then, however, Horky said Jensen has improved immensely.
In those two years, Horky said, she has worked with Jensen on her technique, and she said Jensen is always trying to take in new information and apply it.
“She’s always ready to swim,” she said. “She’s always ready to get in and do the best that she can. She’s always positive.”
Jensen took on her first triathlon in 2014 after about four weeks of training with Horky. It involved a 500-meter swim, a 14-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.
Later in that season, she said, she decided to try her first Olympic-distance race at the Last Blast Triathlon in Lincoln. The typical Olympic distance involves about a 1-mile swim, about a 26-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.
She was hooked.
“That’s when I knew I really liked it and that wanted to continue to focus on it,” she said.
Last year, she entered several races, including a race in Topeka, Kansas in which she qualified for the 2015 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. She couldn’t compete in that race, however, because it was the day before she completed a half Ironman — a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.
After that, Jensen said her goal was to qualify for the 2016 race, and it all came together at the Last Blast race in September.
After winning her age group the previous year, Jensen said she began to train differently. Even so, she didn’t know if her training would pay off.
“I’m a lone wolf when I train, so you can’t really ever gauge yourself as far as how fast you are,” she said. “I just know I’m very competitive and very focused.”
Jensen was in the lead pack after the swim, but when she got on the bike, she injured her calf. Even so, she followed her motto — ride to the front and then ride like you’re behind.
As she transitioned to the run, she could only see male competitors in front of her, but she thought the women would not be far behind. Because of the injury, however, she had to slow her pace considerably.
She kept expecting to see another female competitor, but by the time she did, she realized she had a significant lead.
A biker rides with the lead runner to the finish line, she said, and as Jensen crested a hill, the biker said, “I’m here to ride you in, ma’am. You’re our leader.”
Despite the injury, Jensen finished the race and qualified for nationals.
“It was just this cool moment, and everything had fallen into place,” she said.
She will compete in August in Omaha.
But though Jensen has started training for the race, she is also focused on training for a full Ironman in July — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.
To accomplish that, she said, she often gets up before school to work out, then works out on her own and later teaches a fitness class. Though some people might find that routine demanding, Jensen said after practicing volleyball for four hours a day, she craves that level of activity, and she knows how to balance it.
“I love competing,” she said. “I love the feeling of being fit and pushing other people to get there as well.”
Though she loves to compete, she said at nationals, she will be more focused on being around other top athletes and savoring the day.
“I’m not going to be competing to win it, but I will be so stoked to be there and represent Nebraska and Grand Island,” she said. “It’ll be a really great day.”