A leader on and off the court.
Iowa City, IA: GoGuide Magazine feels fortunate to get a mid-season interview with Jan Jensen, associate head women’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa. In fact, the answers to our questions were received the day after a tough home loss to the Northwestern Wildcats. The fact that coach Jensen took the time to respond to our inquiry speaks highly of her integrity and willingness to talk with our readers.
Coach Jensen has had an illustrious career both on and off the court. She played at Drake University in Des Moines and has been a coach at Iowa for the past 18 seasons.
There’s so much more to learn about coach Jensen. Please read on.
Q: What is it about the University of Iowa and the Iowa City community that makes it such an attractive place to coach and play basketball? Also, I want to get your perspective on how “welcoming” you have found the local community and has it changed over the last 18 years?
A: Part of the reason I came to coach at the University of Iowa was because of the awesome reputation that the Iowa City community had, and I was so right! Iowa City had a cool vibe 21 years ago, and it has only gotten better. My spouse (Julie Fitzpatrick) and I felt extremely welcomed from day one, and that is because this community has seemingly been so open and accepting.
Q: The University of Iowa has been a leading institution in offering opportunities for women to excel in sports. Can you describe for the GoGuide reader the growth in opportunities for girls and women in sports?
A: Dr. Christine Grant is a legend and icon in advocating for women’s athletics. Her life’s work has truly impacted the nation. The impact that she has had on the University of Iowa can never be overstated, nor can it be recognized or celebrated enough. The University of Iowa is a leader in women’s sports because Dr. Grant built the foundation, literally from the ground up. As a result, her work has helped every other university in the state of Iowa.
Q: You played for Coach Bluder at Drake and now coached with her for years; what can you tell us about her the average fan may not know? Also, there must be a considerable amount of chemistry between the two of you; how does that chemistry work to build such a strong women’s basketball program at Iowa?
A: Lisa is one of those rare head coaches that truly does not have an ego. She absolutely loves working with the young women on our team, and she works tirelessly to help them succeed on and off the court. That is the essence of what drives her. It isn’t the awards, the recognition, or the prestige in being one of the winningest coaches of all time; it is simply working with her players to make them better players and better people. Sometimes, people can look at head coaches and get caught up in the glamour part of it. For Lisa, that is the farthest thing from her mind. If you really know Lisa, you know that she is truly so very humble. We do have great chemistry, as we should after all of these years. I think our coaching relationship has lasted and been successful because of our mutual respect. I have never been a “yes” person. We both know that growth can only occur when challenged. Neither one of us have been afraid to challenge each other or be challenged by each other.
Q: You have many young players doing very well, what’s the outlook for the rest of this year and next season for the future of the program:
A: We have an extremely young team. With young teams, there are many ebbs and flows. Young teams require time and patience. We see many moments of brilliance, but we also continue to see many moments of youth. In time, this group will be pretty special. The Big Ten is filled with many experienced teams, so our young Hawkeyes are being challenged every game. We so miss the fans in Carver. We have no doubt that our awesome home-court advantage would be serving our young team well, so we’re hoping our Hawkeye fans will come out in full force when the pandemic is over. We love our fans, and we miss them!
Q: I don’t know how much you want to talk about your personal life…Have you found the Iowa athletic community and the Iowa fan base welcoming to you and you and your spouse?
A: As I said earlier, this university and community have been nothing but spectacular to my spouse, Julie Fitzpatrick, and I from the very beginning. As we started a family, we were so grateful that the wonderful support continued. There are still many challenges in the world facing the LGBTQ+ community, but I am so thankful that in our city, we have much more love, acceptance, and support than is sadly the norm in other areas. On behalf of my family and so many others like ours, I want to say a collective thanks to this community. Iowa City and Coralville are truly special, and we’re so thankful and proud to live here.
Q: Do you see yourself as a role model? Are you active in bringing awareness to issues important to the LGBTQ+ community?
A: I have always striven to live my life in a positive way and even at a young age, I was honored to be considered a role model. Sometimes, some people can feel burdened in being a role model, but that has never been me. I have always felt it an honor if anyone would consider me a role model in any realm. I truly believe that God has blessed me immensely and I am trying to do all I can to use my life and any platform I may have to make a positive difference. I guess I am not certain if others view me as a role model; I believe that would be a question best answered by others. As for me, my goal is to live a life that may be worth replicating in various realms, and if others consider me a role model, I’m flattered. I will continue to do my best in being a good one. While I hope that I am helping to move the needle in all issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, sometimes the demands of my job do not always allow me to be able to attend as many local, state, and national events as I would like. As is the case with many people my age or older, sometimes our voices weren’t quite as loud in the beginning of our journeys. Twenty-five years ago, the world was a much different place. As I have grown up and older, I have gained more confidence in living my truth. I now try to advocate in as many ways as I can. I always consider it an honor to be part of anything working for positive change.
Q: I see that you’re also actively raising money for the United Way of Johnson County. Why is this important to you? (Off the court, Jensen is a leader in fundraising for the United Way of Johnson County). I have a quote from Trisha Smith of United Way that I’m going to include with the interview…” Off the court, Jan is a leader in raising community support for United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties.”
A: Honestly, I was raised with a spirit of giving back. I grew up in a farming community where everyone helped everyone. As I grew up and was blessed with so many opportunities, I just wanted to make sure I was doing all I could to give back to hopefully help others get access to great opportunities. I believe that all of us are only on this planet for a short while, and if we do it right, we will hopefully leave things better than we found them. That is my lifelong goal, to make a positive difference and do my part to make this world a better place. I am fully aware how blessed I am that I live in such a wonderful place and work at such a great university, so working with groups, like the United Way, is such a great way to give back to a community that has been so very good to me. Paying it forward, making it better, to me, that’s what it is all about. GG
Visit hawkeyesports.com/sports/wbball/schedule/ for the remaining schedult to what should be an exciting finish to the season.
Interview by Tim Nedoba
Photo’s courtesy Hawkeyesports.com
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