Thea Jorgensen, a 31-year-old business owner and North Dakota National Guard member, can now add a new title to her list: Miss America's trainer.
Jorgensen worked with Cara Mund, a Bismarck native, who earlier this week made history by becoming the state's first Miss America.
Jorgensen worked with Mund throughout the year — at one point working out twice a day, five days a week — to prepare her for the Miss North Dakota pageant, and after that they went in double time for Miss America.
In an interview this week at Jorgensen's small fitness studio in Bismarck, Jorgensen said she gives all the props to Mund in her victory.
"She worked her butt off," Jorgensen said. "It’s hard for me to want to be like, 'Oh, I’m Miss America’s trainer,' when in reality I really want to celebrate her and all the work that she’s put into it."
Jorgensen became a certified personal trainer in 2011, and started her business Thea Ward Fitness in 2015. Prior to that, she worked as a buyer in the bridal industry.
After losing more than 150 pounds, Jorgensen decided she wanted to help others lose weight and be healthy.
“I wanted to be able to help people feel better about themselves, and not in a degrading way," she said.
Jorgensen works with military personnel, offering free workouts to members of Team Red, White and Blue, a national nonprofit she's involved with that helps veterans through organizing various activities in their communities. Her favorite way to train is called "tactical training," which can be used to train military first responders.
"I train all sorts of people; that’s just kind of my specialty," she said.
Jorgensen said she began working with Mund in early January. After Mund took home the Miss North Dakota title in June, they got ready for Miss America.
"Thea was instrumental in helping her be ready for Miss North Dakota, and then she continued to work with her through the summer," said SuAnn Olson, board member for the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization. "I just think she was exactly who Cara needed."
Olson said many of the women who go to the Miss America competition use personal trainers or a fitness regimen. The swimsuit portion of the pageant, albeit small, still counts and is a display of confidence, she said.
Mund's mom, DeLora Kautzmann Mund, said Jorgensen was a "huge motivator" for her daughter.
“She was so supportive, and she got Cara ready," Kautzmann Mund said.
Jorgensen said Mund's workout schedule varied at times, but they first focused on high-intensity, calorie-burning workouts, and then moved into strength training.
Jorgensen said this was her first time working with a woman in a beauty pageant, and, at first, she was judgmental. By the end of it, she said she was impressed with Mund's work ethic and was surprised to learn of the positives of pageants.
"It opened my eyes to the whole pageant world," Jorgensen said.
On Sept. 10, Jorgensen, like many North Dakotans, clung to the edge of her couch watching the Miss America competition. As soon as Mund got in the top 15, Jorgensen knew she could make it to the top three. Once she got there, Jorgensen said she knew Mund would take the crown.
"It was really fun to watch. It was incredible to see her progression," she said.
Jorgensen said she's excited for Mund to return to North Dakota so she can continue to work with her. She has also volunteered to train the contestants in next year's Miss North Dakota pageant.
Jorgensen also has other plans, including going back to school to get a degree in psychology so she can learn how to help people with mental health disorders. Jorgensen said she has experience with various peer-support trainings through Team Red White and Blue, but she wants the credentials of having a psychology background.
“I really enjoy working with people who understand 100 percent today might not be 100 percent tomorrow,” she said. “And just kind of help people use fitness as a way of coping with mental health disorders.”
Bismarck Tribune reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this article.