The Skating Jansens
Jansen was born June 17, 1965, the youngest of nine children of Harry, a policeman, and Geraldine (Grajek) Jansen, a part-time nurse. The Jansens of West Allis, Wisconsin were a clean-cut, athletic, religious and close-knit family who defied the limits of economics on two meager salaries. Harry Jansen often worked a second, part-time job. Dan Jansen and his siblings followed his oldest sister Mary onto the ice when she was bitten by the skating bug after watching the North American Skating Championships at a local rink.
West Allis "may the best place in the country" to develop as a speed skater, Jansen recalled in his autobiography, Full Circle. The West Allis Speed Skating Club was founded in the 1930s, and the town was site to one of the two official 400-meter ovals in the United States. In most parts of Wisconsin, where winters are long and frozen lakes are plentiful, hockey is virtually the state pastime. But in West Allis, kids who are inclined to skate generally forgo clunky hockey skates for the long blades of speed skates. Jansen's three brothers and three of his sisters skated competitively.
Jansen was in contention for the 1977 national championship when he was just eleven years old. He slipped on a lane marker, losing the championship by one point, and cried all the way home. "You know, Dan, there's more to life than skating in a circle," he recalled his dad saying in Full Circle. Wise as his father may have been, for much of Jansen's life skating was his focus. He played high school football until, at age sixteen, he decided to dedicate himself fully to skating. He competed overseas for the first time when he was in tenth grade, setting a junior world record in the 500-meter event. He
took ninth place overall in 1983. His success in the shorter-distance events encouraged Jansen to concentrate on his talent for sprinting.