Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005


Ironman triathelete Greg Jensen

Ironman shows what he’s made of in grueling events

By Judith Stiles

Through blinding sleet, Greg Jensen eerily ran past his fellow triathletes who were dropping like flies all around him because of the terrible weather during the annual Lake Placid Ironman race.

But in spite of the storm, Jensen persevered and finished 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running in under 11 hours. While most athletes would call it quits after that, this 35-year-old East Village artist crossed the finish line and almost immediately wondered where he could sign up for his next Ironman. Jensen, a painter and graphic designer, who is now preparing for the Florida Ironman in Panama City Beach on Nov. 5, is not your typical uber-athlete. He laughs as he compares his training to that of the typically obsessive-compulsive sportsmen who are also competing this week in Florida. “I’m not trying to prove anything,” he says as he sips a cup of coffee. “I don’t pay too much attention to what I eat during training but I try to bike 60 miles on weekends, swim twice a week, run for a few hours and work out at the gym,” he adds with a relaxed smile.

Ask most runners who complete the upcoming New York City Marathon what they think of the Ironman and they will most likely groan in disbelief that an athlete can swim a few miles in open water, then bike 112 miles and then run a marathon consecutively.

This will be the first time Jensen will be competing in Florida and he cannot wait to meet the challenge, not only for the pure joy of the experience, but also for the children and adults who are afflicted with I.T.P. (immune thrombocytopenic purpura), a serious bleeding disorder. “A friend of mine had I.T.P. as a child, and stories he tells me about living such a fragile childhood — well, it just sparks a fire in my soul to be strong and fight for someone any way I know possible,” says Jensen, explaining why he picked I.T.P. as a cause for which to raise money through sponsors.

As a teenager growing up in Westlake, Cal., Jensen discovered he was a fast runner and an agile swimmer as well as a top-notch goalkeeper who played soccer with the likes of Major League Soccer star Kobe Jones when he was in high school. But it was drawing and painting that became his calling and brought him to New York City in 1996 to work as a freelance art director for advertising agencies such as Chiat/Day and Ogilvy. One day, after being cooped up in an office too long, he stepped out, and revisited his love of sports, only this time with the simple agenda of training for Ironman races while raising money for good causes such as AIDS research, multiple sclerosis and I.T.P. When Michael McGuire, Jr., of the I.T.P. Foundation asked Jensen to help raise money for research for people afflicted with this autoimmune disorder, he was asking for thousands of children, as well as his own two daughters, who have I.T.P.

“When McGuire came to me to ask if I would compete for the I.T.P. Team, I did not hesitate for a second,” says Jensen, as he modestly leans down to tie the yellow laces on his funky black sneakers.

He is not a fellow who brags about his accomplishments nor does he expect praise for his charitable work. Rather, he is a man who lights up with excitement as he talks about the grueling race and the extreme state of exhaustion that takes over after each third of the race. It is difficult to get Jensen to pinpoint exactly what he loves so much about this race that stretches his physical limits to the extreme. Yes, he admits it is a challenge and a thrill. “But it is more than that,” he adds, puzzling over his answer. After a pause, Jensen circles around exactly why he does these races that most people would consider torture, and then he quietly slips it in that the Ironman race has something to do with “finding out who you are….” Sure enough, on Nov. 5, the children with the I.T.P. Foundation will find out who Greg Jensen really is — a man with a big heart.

To become a sponsor or find out more information about the I.T.P. Foundation, e-mail: info@itpfoundation.org.

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