Diggins making most of platform
LAKE PLACID — US Ski Team member and two-time Olympian Jessie Diggins is often described as “bubbly,” but her meteoric rise after claiming a gold medal in 2018 has led her to use her fame for good.
Diggins, along with other members of the US Ski Team, are staying and training in Lake Placid this week. Diggins, with teammate Kikkan Randall, earned the first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang in 2018. And while it was perhaps the most exhilerating finish in that Olympics, Diggins said she doesn’t really remember it.
“Most of the actual last 100 meters I sort of blacked out because I was just so focussed,” she said during an interview at the Olympic Training Center last week. “But once Kikkan tackled me and I turned around and seeing our entire team right along the finishing boards and seeing coaches on their knees sobbing, like openly crying. Seeing the emotion and the yelling and the screaming and the joy and the tears and the just total whirlwind of emotion and experiencing it as a full team was really incredible.
“Winning an individual medal is probably awesome as well, but winning as a team, when it took so many years of so many people building this, was sort of the perfect culmination. It was so cool to be able to celebrate as a team and see so many people in the moment.”
Diggins said the whirlwind continued with her and Randall’s media tour, and she was proud of the fact that probably hundreds of kids signed up to take part in youth ski leagues in the days following their gold medal performance in the team relay.
“In the moment, you have no idea of what it means to everyone back home,” she said. “But then you finally come home and you see that the Minnesota Youth Ski League added 10 chapters. And the ripple effects go out so far, and that’s super cool because you see how it can inspire people and get them excited to get out the door. And that’s the coolest feeling.”
After making appearances on numerous national shows, including The Today Show, Diggins said she and the rest of the ski team continued to ski in international competitions as part of the World Cup season, something she described as a “return to normalcy.” Several Olympic athletes have described a bit of an emotional crash after competing in the Olympics, but Diggins said the lull was delayed due to the excitement of the gold medal and World Cup skiing.
“Right after the Olympics, we went to New York City for four days and did the whole media blitz,” she said. “And you feel like you’ve stepped into the shoes of some celebrity for four days and you’re like ‘This is not my life.’ And it’s overwhelming and it’s super cool and I’m grateful for it, but it was not my normal life.
“And so coming back to the World Cup was so awesome. I ended up just riding out that peak of being in the best shape I’d been in up to that point in my life and so that was a really amazing experience.
“And it was kind of crazy because the crash was delayed for months,” she continued. “And I don’t know if I would call it a crash so much as I was just so busy. I did 25 events in 50 days. Everyone wants a piece of you and you want to give it, but I realized I never took vacation. I never had a day just to be with my family because every 30-minute block is scheduled. And finally, I had that sort of energy crash. It was really good though, because it taught me that … it’s so fun to give back to the community that raised you up. But at some point you do have to say no so that you can fully give yourself when it’s time. So that you can train well and race well and be fully present at every event you say yes to.”
After a brief break, Diggins said she has a better understanding now of what the media circus will be like as she eyes a spot at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. She added that she, the national team and her sports psychologist have already developed a plan on how to handle the media crush while still having success on the snow.
Another lesson that Diggins learned following her and Randall’s 2018 success is that her voice matters and her opinion carries weight, whether it’s with politicians or high school girls. To that end, she has been an outspoken advocate for The Emily Program, which helps people fight eating disorders — something Diggins herself battled when she was a teenager. The Emily Program has locations in Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, while Diggins hails from Minnesota. She is also on the board for Share Winter, which helps underpriviledged kids enjoy snow sports, and works with Protect Our Winters, which lobbies for climate action.
“When I was 18-19 years old, I suffered from an eating disorder and it was pretty severe,” she said. “I ended up going there and getting treatment and ended up making a full recovery. I’ve been recovered for years and years, but after the Olympics I realized that suddenly I had this huge platform and had a lot of things to say if I was willing to say them that could really have a positive impact on people and help reduce the stigma around eating disorders.
“Often times, young athletes look at these Olympic athletes and think ‘Oh my gosh, they’re untouchable, I could never do that.’ And my whole point was ‘Yes you can.’ I’m just a normal girl from Minnesota and I went through some pretty serious shit when I was 18 and got better and got help. And the fact that I asked for help wasn’t stupid or make me weak. It actually made me brave and strong, and so sharing that has been really amazing.
“It was super cool but, emotionally, very tough to share the absolute worst part of my life with everyone, but it’s also been really rewarding to see how it’s helped other people,” she continued. “I don’t want to get to the end of my career and look back and realize that I had this amazing chance and I did nothing with it. I don’t want that regret.”