“I’m going to make the Olympic Team before it’s all said and done…”
These words started Doug Gjertsen’s journey, buy sickness and they were spoken when he was a 14-year-old boy. When it was said and done, physician he did become an Olympic Gold Medalist. He made the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, not once but twice, and joined an exclusive group of United States athletes who have won a gold medal and got to stand on the top step of the podium.
Those words became his mission statement. He predicted his own future and became a member of Team USA! His prediction was but a preamble to: hard work, sweat, dedication, endless laps in the pool, learning and applying himself.
Prior to his prediction, Doug said, “I played baseball, tennis, and ran cross country in school. I even swam around the time I was eight to ten years old … and spent almost every day playing outside with my neighbors. We didn’t have videos games or cell phones, so we played until dark. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I committed myself to swimming competitively.”
Life can be full of obstacles. Doug understood early on he was going to have to work harder than his competition or he would always be a few strokes behind. In sports, natural ability provides a big advantage. However, there are some obstacles even dedication cannot overcome.
Doug was willing to put in the time and effort to excel. Because he did, he continued to show vast improvement. Even with the improvements though, he was only keeping up with his competition. Doug’s biggest obstacle was his stature. He was significantly shorter than his competitors. But that all changed over the course of one summer when he grew eight inches in height! Then all the hard work paid off. He was no longer just keeping up. Now, he was the one being chased and the competition could not keep up! He continued to excel – and the nationwide swimming community took notice.
After high school Doug continued his swimming as a member of the University of the Texas Longhorn’s Swim Team where he became a nationally ranked swimmer. From there, he was selected to compete for the USA as a member of the US Olympic Swim Team for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. During this competition, his prediction came true. He won two gold medals. One in the men’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay and the second in the men’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay….setting a world record time.
After the 1988 Olympics, Doug continued to excel as a member of the swim team for the University of Texas Longhorn’s, winning NCAA National Championships in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Once again, he was invited to compete as a team member for the 1992 US Olympic Swim Team and travel to Barcelona, Spain. This time around he won a bronze medal in the men’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay and also placed 8th in the men’s individual 200 meter freestyle race.
After college, Doug had a number of opportunities. In 1993 he intended to pursue another one of his passions, hunting. He was packed and ready to move to Cody, Wyoming to become a big game hunting guide apprentice. Everything was all planned, when life changed his course.
Coach Behrens, his high school coach, contacted Doug and asked for his help. This time Coach Behrens was the one in need of support. Doug answered with a resounding “yes!” He coached until 1999 for Swim Atlanta at the Roswell, GA location. Then he became Swim Atlanta’s coach for their program at Georgia Tech….and he hasn’t looked back since.
Doug praises Bill Behrens (his high school coach), and Eddie Reese (his college coach), for mentoring him and helping him succeed in swimming and in life. What he learned from them he is passing on to others. When you share your passion, it makes a difference.
As Doug continues to “pass it on,” he relishes seeing his many athletes succeed. He not only trains competitive swimmers, he teaches them the life lessons he has learned that can be applied in all facets of their lives, in and out of the pool. He has taught thousands to swim. Over a hundred have gone on to swim in college. Some have been ranked in the world’s top 25! Others achieved national ranking and still others have gone on to serve this nation in the Armed Forces. He is proud of each one.
Many of his students have stayed in touch through the years and lasting friendships have been fostered. His former and present students stop by to say hello and give him updates on their lives. Doug related how blessed he felt to have a life like his. From his work with the swimmers and students to his family life with Sandy (his wife of 20 years) and their three children (Alaina, Alyssa and son, Avery). Of course, all three children are swimmers! And daughter, Alyssa, now coaches with her dad.
“Swimming has been a gift and I appreciate it even more as time passes. I don’t go to work each day, I go to fun!” he said. “I am very thankful for all that swimming has done for me. The endless time in the water with yourself and your thoughts, has an incredible calming and soothing effect. I truly have a love for what I do.”
In conclusion, I asked Doug, why Henry County? Why, after traveling the world, living in so many places, why live in Henry County? He was clear and concise in his answer. “People here are real down to earth — nice, good people. I love the Southside,” he exclaimed.
He also believes that the proposed Kensley Grace Aquatic Center in Henry County will be extremely beneficial to all in the community. “This facility will provide a very important service to the community. It will be a great gathering place for families; with activities for children, adults and the elderly alike, as well as a place for organizations, such as the Police and Fire Departments to train and better support the county.”
He also relates this type of facility will benefit businesses in the county, as well. Swim meets held at swim facilities like this one, bring a lot of families to the county. Visitors come for various competitions. While they are here they will contribute to the various restaurants, hotels and businesses. More importantly, the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center will provide the community with a place to learn a wonderful skill. “Everyone can swim and enjoy this sport for their entire life…and this facility will provide that.”
Doug Gjertsen continues to teach and influence those around him by sharing lifetime lessons and experiences that will help them in and out of the pool. So you might say ‘all is not said and done yet’ for Doug Gjertsen.
Gold 1988 Seoul 4×100 m freestyle
Gold 1988 Seoul 4×200 m freestyle
Bronze 1992 Barcelona 4×200 m freestyle
NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships
1988, 89, 90 – University of Texas
World Championships (Long Course)
Gold 1991 Perth 4×100 m freestyle
Silver 1991 Perth 4×200 m freestyle
Pan Pacific Games
Gold 1989 Tokyo 200 m freestyle
Gold 1989 Tokyo 4×100 m freestyle
Gold 1989 Tokyo 4×200 m freestyle
Bronze 1989 Tokyo 100 m freestyle