Meet the Athletes: Jessie Diggins | WNYT.com

Meet the Athletes: Jessie Diggins

NBC Olympics
Updated: January 19, 2022 05:55 PM

Jessie Diggins helped earn the U.S. its first-ever gold medal in Olympic cross-country skiing at the 2018 Games, then built upon that success by capturing the 2020-21 Tour de Ski and overall FIS World Cup titles. The glitter-wearing Minnesotan and advocate is among her sport's fiercest competitors.

As part of our preparation for the 2022 Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the snow or ice. Here's what we found out about Diggins:

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Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing

Events: All; Sprint, Team Sprint, Relay, 10km, Skiathlon, 30km
Age: 30
Birthplace: St. Paul, Minn.
Hometown: Afton, Minn.
Residence: Stratton, Vt.
Past Games: 2014, 2018

IG: jessiediggins | Twitter: @jessdiggs
FB: /jessiedigginsski | jessiediggins.com

Team USA | U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Jessie Diggins at a 2021 photoshoot in California
U.S. cross-country skier Jessie Diggins poses for a portrait during an April 2021 photoshoot in or near Mammoth Lakes, California.
NBC Olympics

Family & Upbringing

Tell us about your family.

?I'm very close to my family, and feel lucky to have such a good relationship with them! My mom (Deb Diggins) and my dad (Clay Diggins) were both born in Canada, but have lived in Minnesota my whole life. My younger sister Mackenzie is five years younger than me. And we have two dogs, Leo and Lucy, both French Brittanys.

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CX6Yqjag3ZN/

?In April of 2020, I got engaged to my long time boyfriend, Wade Poplawski, a Canadian who came to the States to play hockey and stayed in Boston to work. We are planning our wedding for May 2022!?

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-4kE-MAz_-/

Who do you live with?

?I currently live and train in Stratton, Vermont, but I also spend quite a bit of time in South Boston where I live with my fiancé, Wade. With working from home more flexible now, Wade lives with me in Stratton during off-season training. I also often have a club teammate living with us while in Stratton, Alayna Sonnesyn, also from Minnesota.?

Where does your family come from?

?Both my parents were born in Canada. My mom moved to Minnesota quite young and got her U.S. citizenship, but my dad grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has a green card. Which makes me a dual citizen! Half of our larger family still lives in Canada, and the other half lives in the U.S.?

How influential were your parents in your athletic aspirations?

?My parents taught me to ski! I owe everything in my career to them, not only because they taught me skiing but because they instilled a deep love of the outdoors and the satisfaction of working hard towards a goal.

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQWpra3r-C9/

?Before I could even walk, I was in my dad's backpack as my parents skied different trails around Minnesota. We joined the Minnesota Youth Ski League where I officially learned to ski, and by taking me to different citizens races around Minnesota, my parents showed me how fun and rewarding this sport could be; both skiing beautiful trails for fun with my friends and challenging myself with different races. When I got older and started racing more and more seriously, my mom and dad took so much time out of their schedule to drive me to practice, teach me how to wax my skis and even flying with me to race at nationals my first few years.

I will always be grateful to my parents for always asking me if I had fun in my races and emphasizing that I could decide if my race was a "good" race or not based on my own effort, instead of focusing on results. They always made sure it was my choice to want to ski race, and because of that, I only raced because I truly loved it!

School name, major, degree, college athletics?

?I did the online school program with the U.S. Ski Team and Westminster College in Utah, and technically I'm still in my sophomore year although I've taken a break indefinitely until I am finished competing.?

Do you have any pets? Are they on social?

?Leo and Lucy Diggins, my family's dogs, and I love them to bits! They're French Brittanys. They do not have social media accounts, but make frequent cameos on mine whenever I am visiting my family.?

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8q3H60A0WK/

Top five spots in your hometown?

?Afton, Minnesota, is a very small town on the rural side, so one of my favorite things to do is run in the Afton State Park, with it's beautiful rolling hills. The running and roller skiing on the quieter roads in Afton makes this a training mecca for skiers all over the Twin Cities.

?If you visit, you'll definitely have to walk down main street (St. Croix Trial South), check out the flowers at Squire House Gardens, get a big ice cream cone at Selma's Ice Cream Parlor and then enjoy it in the park directly across the street. The park street has its own street sign, named "Jessie Diggins Trail." For dinner, visit the historic Afton House Inn, then take a walk around the marina to see the boats as the sun sets.?

How has your hometown shaped who you are today?

?Being only three miles from the Afton State Park and being able to roller ski right out our door has been huge for someone growing up as a cross-country skier! It's a training paradise, and I have always felt supported while training in Afton. Most days, people roll down their windows and cheer me on when they pass by, which is such a Minnesota thing!

?My high school ski team at Stillwater High was fueled by so many kind volunteers and a very supportive community, and it helped me fall even more in love with the sport because of how great the people were.?

Where else have you lived?

?I live out of a suitcase quite a lot, but I spend most of my time between Stratton Mountain in Vermont, three hours away in Southie Boston, and visiting my family in Afton, Minnesota. I've now spent nine years training in Stratton and have enjoyed making it my home with a little garden outside my condo and amazing training right out the door with my club team, SMST2. And now that I've spent quite a lot of time in Southie, I've grown to love Boston, as well! My favorite running loops are out the door of our apartment and around Castle Island, or around the Charles.?

Lifestyle & Training

Typical training day?

?I wake up around 7:45 in the summer and train with my club team around 9 a.m. Our training changes every week as we periodize our training loads, but an average harder day would look like this: two to two and a half hours of roller skiing with intervals, about five- to six-by-10 minutes threshold pace. Then, after getting home, I'd make a quick snack, shower and foam roll, and then make lunch.

?After lunch I'll spend a little time answering emails on the computer and preparing sponsor deliverables, then take a nap. In the afternoon, I'll either do more distance training (one and a half hours of running, roller skiing or biking/swimming), or I'll run for 30 minutes, then spend the next one and a half hours in the gym doing strength and mobility. After dinner, I'll watch a show with my fiancé and then be in bed by 10 p.m.?

How much time to you train? How much do you sleep?

?It depends on the training cycle and time of year, but as cross-country skiers, we only log the time we are actually moving and sweating with our heart rate up. So while we may train three to four and a half hours a day, we're spending even more time outside of that on visualization, body care, analyzing technique and planning out training. The extra elements added up take between one and one and a half hours a day.

?I sleep between eight and a half and nine and a half hours a night, and usually take a nap in the afternoon after lunch.?

What's your favorite workout?

?I love our long workouts that we do at the end of each training week, where we can plan a long adventure run! It's social and pretty epic to run for four to five hours in the mountains. My favorite run we've done is the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and it's nine peaks over the course of 18-20 miles depending on which route you choose. You run the ridge line the whole day and it's the most incredible views!?

What's the most grueling workout you've ever done?

?Last summer we did three back-to-back five-kilometer time trials. The first one was a pacing effort, with a three-minute rest. Then I did two 5km all-out efforts, where I pushed my body so hard I couldn't stand at the finish line. Finding the mental strength to push my body that hard, knowing I'd have to do it again, and then holding my technique together as long as possible was incredibly challenging.

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CB0_jwmA0Wg/

?Having anchored Team USA's 4x5km relay for the last decade, this was a really important workout for me. Knowing that I would only have to do one 5km effort on race day, it gave me strength to know that I've done it three times back to back, so I will definitely have the toughness to do it just once, all-out, on race day!?

Surprising things regarding training for Olympics?

?I think most people would be surprised to hear how comprehensive our training is and how everything we do in our lives as endurance athletes feeds into how we race. We have to have amazing endurance, yet enough power and strength to sprint. We need to be incredibly mentally tough, since we're in so much pain while pushing our bodies to their limits. We train many hours of endurance, but we also do sprints and interval training. I feel lucky that we get to cross-train so much for our sport because in addition to skiing and roller skiing we get to lift weights, run, bike and swim.?

Any out-of-the-ordinary or experimental training?

?I think my training is pretty standard for a cross-country skier – it's incredibly hard, and I might run a marathon at the end of a big training week just as part of my training plan, but that's normal for skiers. I do use foam rollers, percussion tools and Normatec pants to help me recover in between training sessions.?

Experience during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

?I was in Boston with my boyfriend Wade, and he proposed! So mentally, I was really in a good place. But it affected my training because I missed all our on-snow camps, so I went from March until a week before our first World Cup races of the year without skiing on snow. Luckily, I could do a lot of indoor training with online classes during the heart of lockdown, since most of it was in our few weeks that we take off. Then, in Stratton, we were able to train normally since we're outside.?

Have you ever been seriously injured?

?When I was 18-19 years old, I suffered from an eating disorder (bulimia nervosa). With my parents help, I sought treatment from the Emily Program and was able to not only save my life physically, but mentally as well. It took a team effort for me to find recovery and I still have times when I check in with my sports psychologist to be sure I'm staying in a great place.

I've learned so much about how to value myself for what I bring to the table and for who I am, not for what my body looks like, what shape I live in, or what pressures I may feel from endurance sport. I think it's important to acknowledge that mental health injuries are just as severe and take just as much inner strength to overcome as physical injuries.

?Now, I race with the Emily Program logo on my headband as a reminder of the future that I now have because of the bravery and team effort that it took to heal my past. I want to show the next generation of athletes that asking for help with anything, but especially mental health, is brave and makes you stronger than facing it alone.?

Any nutrition plan? (e.g., calories, meals)

?As a cross-country skier, I have to be sure I'm eating enough to meet the energy demands of my sport. I try to make sure that my plate contains a source of carbs, protein, vegetables, calcium and fats at lunch and dinner. And I never say no to dessert!

?I also love cooking, so I think it's important to find joy in making food that fuels me. A sample dinner might be baked salmon with miso paste, butter, honey and Dijon sauce on top, a farro grain salad with arugula, goat cheese, tomatoes and lemon olive oil dressing and a homemade cookie.?

Dessert indulgences?

?I pride myself on my banana muffins and I also enjoy baking salted chocolate chip cookies.?

Reflection & Olympics

Earliest memory of participating in sport?

My first memory of cross-country skiing was yelling "mush" at my dad from his backpack as he and my mom skied on the trails. I'd learned that "mush" is how you tell sled dogs to go faster and I always wanted to go "super-speed!"

?What I love most about skiing is that it truly is a lifelong sport, and I plan to enjoy it long after I retire from Olympic and World Cup competition. The feel of challenging myself to fly down the trail faster, to be able to enjoy different trails around the world and feel graceful yet powerful while skiing is amazing.?

Earliest memory of watching Olympics or Paralympics?

?I remember getting together with my high school teammates for a sleepover to watch the 2010 Opening Ceremony of the [Vancouver] Olympics. Seeing athletes I'd met and trained with in camps walking in, I was so proud of them, excited for them, and hoping I'd be able to do that someday!?

Specific breakthrough moment?

?I never had one specific breakthrough 'aha' moment. But when I qualified for the 2011 World Championships and raced well enough to be put on the relay team as anchor for the first time, I started dreaming big because I knew it was possible! In our sport, world championships are the same exact level of competition as the Olympics, so if you can race well at world champs you can race at the Olympic level.?

What would you change about your sport?

?I wish we had a relay with both the men's and women's teams combined, the way biathlon has. We have such a great team chemistry and we all train together as one big team, so it would be exciting to show the depth of our nation and do a relay with both men and women on it!?

Who is your coach?

?I've been working with Jason Cork my entire World Cup career, since the day I graduated high school. He's the smartest person I know, an incredible student of the sport. But most importantly, he understands me and knows that happiness is fast, and sees the bigger picture first. He'll put my overall well being before performance, and because of that, I tend to perform better. He knows that I like to push the limits with training and will help hold me back so I don't burn out, but also knows when it's important for me to finish a really epic, hard workout.?

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CEF49WrlZ-B/

Who do you socialize with most within your sport?

?Our entire team! I feel lucky that our men's and women's cross-country teams train and compete together as one unit, because we are surrounded by so many hard working, dedicated people to lift us up. I also socialize with my club teammates in Stratton since that's where I live and train in the summer between U.S. Ski Team camps, and I'm very close with my club team.?

Close friends with any competitors?

?Yes - I have friends on most every team on the World Cup circuit! In particular, I've become close with the Norwegian women's team and have flown over twice to join them in training camps. When I won the Tour de Ski [in 2021], I was getting texts all along the way from Norwegian friends telling me they were cheering for me!?

Biggest rival?

?Because I have so many friends on the World Cup, I feel that I'm mostly racing against the timing clock and my own limits, not trying to beat any one person in particular. I'm happy for my friends when they have a great race because I know what incredible hard work it took for them to get there, and they're genuinely happy for me in return!?

Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist?

?Yes, since 2011, and it has been incredible. Having a trusted person to talk everything through with has been huge for me. Not just in racing, but in recovery from my eating disorder early on in my career, and in navigating the homesickness of five months on the road while racing World Cup.?

Big obstacle that you've overcome?

?The eating disorder I had at 18 years old. Mental health is so stigmatized in our society that we can place blame on ourselves and be too scared to reach out for help. Getting over that barrier and accepting help and working to save my own life with the professionals at the Emily Program is the hardest thing I've ever done, but also the most important. It's also why I wrote my book, Brave Enough. I wanted to give an honest and raw account of how I got into my eating disorder and most importantly, how I got my life back again.?

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5Gfit4ARPO/

Hearing from young athletes, coaches and parents that my words helped inspire them to ask for help or to be more compassionate and understanding for a loved one has been the greatest source of pride in my career.

Biggest fear when competing?

?That I will cross the finish line and realize that I have even an ounce of energy left, and that I was too scared to give absolutely everything I had.?

Olympic or Paralympic role model?

?Oksana Masters. The strength, grace and resilience she has shown all with such a positive attitude and incredible work ethic is the most impressive and inspiring thing to me!?

Summer Olympic buddy?

?I'd love to meet Serena Williams. She is such an amazing, strong, inspirational role model to all women!?

Greatest influence within/outside sport?

?All of my coaches, from my high school coach Kris Hansen to my current coach Jason Cork and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team cross-country staff. But most of all, my parents for teaching me to love skiing and for supporting me both financially and emotionally through so much of my career.?

Advice you'd give a young athlete?

Do it because you love it! When you have fun, you'll naturally want to get out there and all the hard work won't feel like a sacrifice at all, because you're with great people doing a sport you truly enjoy.

Best part of living in the Olympic Village?

?The camaraderie I felt with so many winter sports that I usually never get to see! All these different athletes and sports coming together to represent the country makes it feel both big and small at the same time.?

Where do you keep your PyeongChang gold?

?I don't, because I want to wake up every day and earn the right to feel proud of myself for what I've done that day. My medal is in a hat in my parents' basement.?

Play any other sports?

?We get to crosstrain a lot for our sport, so I enjoy biking, swimming and a lot of running.?

Which Summer Olympic event would you like to try?

?I would love to learn to tumble like a gymnast! I think that's so badass.?

Ever been told you wouldn't succeed?

?Nobody ever told me, but I still had it in my head that I had to have no body fat to be successful as an endurance athlete. This really hurt me as I developed my eating disorder, but by first regaining my health then racing better because I was happy and healthy, I was able to prove to myself that a well-rounded, healthy athlete is one who makes a long successful career.?

Any pre-competition rituals?

?Oh yeah I do! I put sparkles on my cheeks as a reminder that skiing is fun and I get to do this! It's a promise to myself that I'm going to go out there and race my heart out, and if I can do that with 100% effort, then I should be proud of my day. I also braid my hair before a race as something to do with my hands when I'm nervous.?

View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B2UJsLUgncp/

Are you superstitious?

?We have striped socks we wear just for the team relay events, and those are very special to us!?

Passions & Personality

Which comic books/superheroes are you a fan of?

?Wonder Woman movie. It's about time they made one with a female star!?

What are some of your other favorite media?

?I don't spend a ton of time on news, but I enjoy reading Cosmo, Health and Allure as travel-day treats for myself.?

Any teams/athletes that you are a fan of?

?My fiancé was a hockey player, so I'm a fan of the Minnesota Wild but also the Winnipeg Jets with him.?

Do you have a nickname?

?I sometimes get called 'Diggs' by my teammates, and 'sparkle chipmunk' by the girls. Chandra Crawford (Canadian gold medalist in cross-country) came up with it because a chipmunk is my spirit animal and I'm a very sparkly person!?

How do you unwind after a competition?

?Netflix shows with my teammates!?

Do you have any hidden talents?

?I wrote a book, so maybe those English classes stuck with me in school, after all! I enjoy slack line balance challenges, but that's about it for hidden talents!?

Which charities or nonprofits do you support?

?I'm on the board of Protect Our Winters, and I started working with them right after the 2018 Olympics. I'm passionate about using my voice for causes that matter to me, and raising awareness and helping to mobilize the outdoor community to fight climate change is one way I can pay it forward to the next generation of winter athletes!

?I'm also on the board of Share Winter, a nonprofit committed to giving diverse communities of kids the opportunity to learn a snow sport for the first time. This is a great way for us to make winter sports more inclusive and diverse while spreading the confidence and joy that sports brings to kids.

?I'm an ambassador for WithAll, and fundraise for them as spreading awareness and education on how to prevent eating disorders is very close to my heart. I focus on their work to equip adults with phrases and strategies for talking to the children in their lives about body image and fueling for sport with awareness and compassion.

?I'm also an ambassador for Fast and Female, to inspire girls to stay in sport for life in whatever capacity they choose!?

What would you do if you weren't an athlete?

?I used to say I'd like to be a dance teacher for little kids, and while I still think that's true (as our team's dance choreographer this is near and dear to my heart) I think I'd like to work in education and awareness in the eating disorder space.?

Do you have any fears or pet peeves?

?'Mansplaining' (this as a pet peeve, not a fear).?

What is on your bucket list?

I want to take a backpack and travel around South America, New Zealand and Australia with my fiancé Wade once I retire from competitive sport. I also want to learn to skydive solo someday, and learn to scuba dive.

Personal motto or inspirational quote?

?'Success requires the emotional balance of a committed heart. When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape. A committed heart does not wait for conditions to be exactly right. Why? Because conditions are never exactly right.' – Andy Andrews?

A woman that inspires you?

?I have many, but my first thought is my mom, because she showed me how to believe in your goals and work hard towards them while leaning on your family for strength and support!?

Favorite hobbies?

?I love taking dance classes in the spring (especially house dance!) as it's a challenge to connect my brain to my feet and memorize a combination. I enjoy cooking new foods and baking with my teammates, and especially cooking with the herbs and vegetables I grow in my small garden in Stratton. I also love anything that gives me a rush of adrenaline, like cliff jumping with teammates at the end of a long, hot training session into a lake, bungee jumping or skydiving!?

Favorite musician?

?Taylor Swift?

Music of choice while training?

?I like anything with a good dance beat! Currently: 'Dura' by Daddy Yankee, 'Shadow' by Macklemore, 'Juice' by Lizzo, 'My Type' by Saint Motel and 'Give it To Me Twice' by Party Favor.?

Do you sing or play an instrument?

?I have a small pink travel guitar that stays in Europe with me, but I'm a terrible singer and will not sing in public.?

Personal style?

?If I'm not in a baggy T-shirt and shorts while doing body care, I do like to dress up in flowy summer dresses.?

Five must-have items in your gym bag?

?Nuun drink mix, sparkles, a muffin for after the workout, a change of clothes, ankle bands.?

If you could hear from one celeb, who would it be?

?Ryan Reynolds.?

Favorite meme/GIF that best describes you?

?The little girl dancing/celebrating and she's clearly really pumped about it!?

Favorite social accounts?

?@protectourwinters, @sweetpotatosoul, @trevornoah, @lukemillingtondrake, @thewilliamsfam and @lizclimo.?

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