For most people, bike rides, swims and jogs are activities for separate days, maybe even weeks. For triathletes like Henry Jessen, it’s all in a day’s work.
Jessen was always interested in sports, specifically swimming. His mom had him in the water since he could remember. As he got older, Jessen spent his summers at the Edina Country Club pool, not only hanging out with friends but eventually swimming competitively. He continued to swim until he graduated from Edina High School in 2014, but toward the end of his senior year, his focus started to fade away from the pool and toward the track.
Running had been a part of Jessen’s repertoire since middle school, when he joined the cross-country and track teams. His middle school coach Van Nelson, a former Olympic runner, was a big inspiration to Jessen’s running career. Jessen competed throughout high school, taking second place in the state tournament and qualifying for nationals during his senior year. “There I really fell in love with running,” Jessen says. “Getting to compete on the national stage was such a cool experience.”
In college, Jessen ran on the cross-country and track teams at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After four years competing with the Bulldogs, his days of competitive sports very well could have ended. At the time, he had no idea something new was right around the corner.
A USA triathlon ad caught Jessen’s eye one day. It was seeking multi-sport athletes who were interested in running triathlons. He decided to inquire and ended up getting recruited to go to the U.S. Olympic training facility in Colorado for a weeklong camp. “They got me a bike and taught me about the sport,” Jessen says. “That was really my first introduction to triathlons.”
In 2019, Jessen competed in his first Olympic-distance triathlon, which is a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run. After that, he was hooked. In 2021, Jessen competed for a national title in Milwaukee. There, he qualified for two world championships, which he’ll compete in this year, and was two spots away from being able to go professional. “I was 10 seconds away from getting my pro card,” Jessen says. “I could see the guy finish in front of me.”
Jessen is heading to Montreal at the end of June to represent Team USA in his first world championship, and then he will head to Abu Dhabi in November for his second. He’s been training six days a week in preparation for the events and averages 14–16 hours a week on bike rides, swims and runs.
Going pro is still Jessen’s goal, and he’ll be returning to Milwaukee again in 2022 in hopes of placing high enough to qualify.
When he’s not training, Jessen, who now lives in St. Louis Park, is a digital media buyer for a local ad agency. He also enjoys spending time at his family cabin near Mille Lacs Lake. “That’s one of my favorite places to bike and run,” Jessen says. “I love it up there.”
Jessen credits his high school swimming coach Art Downey and track and field coach Jamie Kirkpatrick, along with his high school teammates, for inspiring him to pursue the sports. “They all had big influences on my life,” Jessen says. “The reason I stuck with it is because of [those] teams.”