Feb. 23, 2011
By Dean Caparaz '90
When she isn't creating a better world for California in the water, Liv Jensen is working to improve the campus community on dry land.
The junior swimmer is one of the most decorated athletes on Cal's acclaimed squad. She captured the title in the 50-yard freestyle at last spring's NCAA Championships a year after she helped secure national crowns in the 400 free and 800 free relays during the Golden Bears' run to the NCAA team title in 2009.
In addition, Jensen garnered the 2009 Pac-10 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award for a stellar season that included second-place finishes in the 50 free, 200 free relay and 200 medley relay en route to Cal's first Pac-10 team championship.
"It's fair to say that she's had a huge part of our recent success," head coach Teri McKeever said. "She's won an individual title, a number of relay titles and she has high expectations for herself and those around her. She raises the bar of people around her. That's what you're expecting from a leader on your team. She has a strong presence around her. That was one of the things that was attractive about her joining the program."
Besides making a name as a national champion, the 6-foot-3 Jensen, whose name is pronounced Leaf Yensen, is notable as the tallest woman McKeever has coached in Berkeley. She is the product of a tall family, as her father is also 6-3 and her brother stands between 6-4 and 6-5.
An intended molecular and cell biology major, Jensen is also one of the team's "deep thinkers," according to McKeever.
"The main thing is her intellect," Cal's 19th-year head coach said. "When something happens, she is very thoughtful in her response to it. We play `Scategories' as a team, and she's always pushing the envelope of a word or content and always has a great explanation for it. Liv is very bright and articulate.
"She definitely has very strong beliefs. She wrote a letter to a grocery store about this chicken noodle soup that had just one piece of chicken in it, pointing out that was false advertising and wasn't right. We traveled on an airline and had a problem with a reservation, and she wrote the airline a letter. She's righting the wrongs of society but in a thoughtful way. She's thinking about more than just herself, looking at a bigger picture. She's looking at what she's doing and how it affects other people."
"When I'm not happy about something I'll let the person know and let the company know," Jensen explained. "If you talk to my teammates, if during practice they're not doing something right, I'll be a little sharp with them. I'm not afraid to be sharp with people."
Away from the pool, Jensen is an active member of the Cal Student-Athlete Advisory Committee or Bear SAAC, a group that helps create relationships between student-athletes and the campus by organizing community service efforts and raising funds for various causes.
The Palo Alto, Calif., product took part in a variety of community service activities during the 2009-10 academic year, including the Bearfoot for Barefeet event that raised over $1,200 for those affected by the Haiti earthquake of early 2010. She also helped to collect more than 1,500 food items for the Alameda County Community Food Bank and spoke several times to local school children about the importance of balancing athletics and academics.
In this current academic year, Jensen has raised money and participated in the Jog for Jill, a 5-kilometer run for the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer foundation created in honor of Cal coxswain Jill Costello who passed away last summer from lung cancer. She also took part in College Sports Day at Cal in which athletes from various sports gave one-on-one instruction to and led interactive games for children.
Her latest SAAC endeavor is to make the campus cleaner and more environmentally sound via a campus greening project that she is trying to get off the ground. Jensen hopes that the Bears can influence the Cal athletic community and the rest of the campus to take even bigger roles in recycling.
"We wanted to develop a project that would allow student-athletes to do something with the rest of campus and community," she said. "The campus greening project resonated with us as athletes."
The well-rounded student-athlete also competed with Bears from other sports last spring in the Oberlin Dance Company's Toe to Toe fundraiser, which pitted professional dancers versus collegiate athletes in a test of dance routines and athletic events.
Jensen did her share of community service while at Palo Alto High School, from participating in canned food drives to making room for naturally existing plant species in the surrounding hills.
Growing up, Jensen swam for Paly as well as for Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. Her youth success culminated in swimming at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles.
When it came time to move on to the next stage of her career, she decided to matriculate in the East Bay despite having a nationally prominent program down the street.
"It ended up being too close to home for me," she said of Stanford. "I grew up so close that I knew the culture of the campus already. What really appealed to me about Cal was the diversity. I love California and the Bay Area and the vibrant humanity that's here, but I also love that Cal is just so different than anything that I had ever experienced growing up in Palo Alto."
Both the Cal team and the campus community can be thankful for that.