2 Years Out From Tokyo, Biathlon Gold Medalist Kendall Gretsch Transitions To Triathlon

By Steve Drumwright | Aug. 24, 2018, 4:50 p.m. (ET)

Kendall Gretsch, pictured at a paratriathlon race in 2017, looks to add to her two Paralympic medals in Nordic skiing.

The idea of being famous doesn’t really strike the right chord with Kendall Gretsch.

“I don’t feel like random people should know me,” Gretsch said with a laugh.

But the 27-year-old, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, has staked her claim to fame after winning two gold medals this past March at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and people are taking notice of her.

“Just yesterday, some random person came up to me in the gym and said, ‘Are you Kendall?’” Gretsch said this week. “That was the first time that someone random came up to me and knew who I was. So I think that was kinda cool of really realizing how many people were able to see it and experience the whole thing with me, which was pretty special.”

Gretsch made history in March when she became the first American man or woman to win gold in biathlon at either the Paralympic or Olympic Games when she grabbed gold in the women’s 6-kilometer sitting event by 22 seconds on the first day of the Games. She followed that up with another dominant victory in the 12-kilometer sitting cross-country skiing event, winning by 32 seconds.

Her performance in South Korea opened her eyes to more possibilities. The Nordic events were secondary in her thought process as she is a three-time world champion in paratriathlon, a sport where she has never lost in nine races on the main international circuit, including her only start this season.

The next major goal for Gretsch, who was born with spina bifida, is the paratriathlon in Tokyo in 2020, which is exactly two years away as of Saturday.

“I’ve never been to Tokyo, so that will be pretty exciting to be there,” Gretsch said.

She is hoping that there will be some test events at the Tokyo triathlon venue next year in preparation for 2020.

After taking last summer off from triathlon in order to focus on Nordic skiing, Gretsch has had a lighter schedule this summer as qualification for most of the races are based on points from the previous season.

“I’m making sure I am in a good spot for Tokyo and next season,” said Gretsch, who is likely to miss out on next month’s world championships in Australia due to her limited schedule.

Still, it has helped her formulate a training plan to optimize her performance in the summer and winter sports. The two sports use different arm muscles, so she is working on strengthening her rotator cuff to help her performance.

“This season was kind of the first time where I completely switched (my training schedule) in the winter,” she said. “I didn’t swim, bike or run — I think I swam one time all winter, but didn’t bike or run at all — so I think transitioning back into triathlon was a really good learning experience this past season to realize maybe just a couple things I would do differently, but also to realize it’s possible to do that.”

Like many elite athletes, Gretsch has a regular job in addition to her sporting life. She works in technical support for Epic Systems, a company that provides health care software to hospitals and other medical facilities. In order to make her schedule more flexible, she is training to become a consultant. Epic has provided Gretsch with plenty of support, even giving her four months off to train for PyeongChang while making sure she had a job waiting when the Games were over.

“It’s a pretty cool place to work,” she said.

She trains four times a week, which means her day consists of waking up at 5 a.m., leaving for practice at 5:30, working out for an hour, going to work from 8 to at least 6 p.m., training again for about 90 minutes and then going home to eat and sleep.

“It’s not glamorous,” she said with a chuckle about her life.

But it is something she enjoys, even if her vacation time is spent traveling to competitions or camps.

“It’s one of those things where I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it so much,” Gretsch said. “Probably to the normal person, going over to Sweden and skiing in a tunnel for 10 days (like she will do at the end of September for a Team USA training camp) doesn’t sound like a vacation, but to me, it is. I love my job, I love what I’m doing at Epic, but I also love training and love competing and racing. I wouldn’t say I’m not taking any time for myself, there’s a lot of part about sports that are selfish.”

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.