Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor
Resume: Navy SEAL and two-time Olympic medalist
Sport at USC: Swimming
Caroline Deisley: Despite obvious reasons, how did swimming or more importantly, collegiate athletics prepare you for joining the Navy?
Larsen Jensen: I think it prepared me for obvious reasons in the sense of you needed familiarity with the water and comfort in your ability with that. I would say that my experience on a sports team in particular at 'SC gave me a taste of what relying on your buddies is all about and what camaraderie is all about. I think that was something that I really wanted on the next level and that's what motivated me to join the military in the first place - just to sort of have an essence or an enhanced version of that camaraderie and teamwork that we experienced at 'SC.
CD: Who would you say was your biggest role model or the biggest supporter in making that decision to join the military?
LJ: That's a really tough question because I don't believe there was any one person who was more so than others. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my family. They were and always have been tremendously in support of my decisions, and obviously, they did a good job of molding me into a person who can make his own decisions. Also, my coaches at 'SC and all my friends and teammates that were out there really supported me and got behind me. Pretty much every task that I've tried to tackle in life, I've had a tremendous support base and I've been very, very lucky in particular to have the support base from 'SC.
Specifically, Dean Ellis of the business school was a tremendous influence on me and he's just an incredible guy. Coach Dave Salo who's currently the men's head swim coach over at 'SC was also a tremendous influence on me so those are two of the Trojan great names that I guess you could say have helped to mold me into the person I am today.
CD: What sticks with you about your time as a student-athlete at USC? You mentioned Dean Ellis, how was that working with teachers and administrators?
LJ: It was awesome and as is with most things in life, the best advice I can give is to enjoy it because it's always over too soon. Make sure you soak it in because too often we get wrapped up in how busy our schedule is and in my particular case, when the next meet is or what kind of times you want to produce or do as a team, the grades, the midterms, what's going on Saturday night...all that kind of stuff. It's so easy to get wrapped up in all of that. Every once in awhile I think it's important to take a step back and realize that you're at a really important spot not only physically but also in terms of a really unique spot in your life where you're just a college student and have things going on. You sort of take it for granted later in life when you don't get the naps in the middle of day or when you're done with classes to just go relax. You sort of miss that from time to time. It's a tremendous experience so just treasure it.
CD: Was there anything as a collegiate athlete you wish you had known before you entered the real world?
LJ: No question. I think it's unfortunate that as a college athlete you get so absorbed in whatever your sport might be whether it be swimming, football, basketball, whatever, that you really don't see beyond that. You don't really prepare yourself as well as perhaps a lot of the other students do at school. When a lot of the other students are doing internships every summer, the athletes are generally stuck on campus practicing and training for the next game or the next event. You have almost all your eggs in one basket in the sense that you're just shooting for that athletic performance and not necessarily preparing yourself for the real world job that's going to be creeping up on you right around the corner. Any student-athlete out there that might be having the unfortunate experience of listening to me talk, I think definitely get out there, get internships and get exposure to whatever it is you may be passionate about in the professional business realm because even if you go on to be a professional athlete, you can ask anyone, it's very short-lived. They set you up very well; however, you can't neglect everything else because otherwise you're just going to be at a deficit to everyone else who has done an internship for those four years.
CD: How did you end up making the decision to join the Navy? Did you always know that you were going to do it?
LJ: I wouldn't say that I always knew. I guess you could say it was sort of a childhood dream to an extent of wanting to be in the military. I don't really know what sparked that other than perhaps my upbringing, growing up on an almond farm in Bakersfield. My father taught me the values that are associated with being in the military and not necessarily in a direct manner so I can't really say exactly where I got that from. Then when 9/11 happened, I was like you know I've got to do something about this, but for whatever reason I just stuck with my swimming and did okay with that. As my swimming career was dying down or coming down to a close, I was like,"Hey, I really probably should do something to give back a little bit," so I started evaluating what I wanted to do afterwards and began looking at the various options so this one was the one that definitely fit the best.
CD: What sort of qualities does it take to complete the rigorous programs and different things that you had to do to get there?
LJ: There's a number of them. I guess the one that sticks out the most in my mind is to have a never quit attitude and certainly you can pair that with humility. If you do that, I think that at least from a mental and emotional standpoint, you'll succeed. With that comes the physical preparation that any college athlete is familiar with in terms of listening to your coach and working hard with them. In that aspect you definitely have a pretty easy transition, but the uniqueness of having that mentality that you'll never quit, you'll never give up, but also being humble about it and being professional about it is rare. I think it shows by the attrition rate and the training programs that I've gone through.
CD: So, what's next?
LJ: I'm working on that myself right now trying to get the pieces together I hope. I've been very lucky to serve my country in the military and serve my country at the Olympics. I feel very fortunate and very lucky. At the same time, I think it's time to move forward. I recently got married in July so that was great. My wife, Emily, was a USC alumni also. She graduated from the hygiene program at USC. It's just time to move forward with my life and do something where I'll be home a little bit more rather than deployed all the time. I've got another diploma coming up potentially and I'm thinking about maybe business school or moving into the business realm.