Meet the athletes: Jesse Diggins

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Oldest memory of participating in sports?

My first memories of cross-country skiing were yelling “mush” at my dad from his bag while he and my mom were downhill skiing. I’ve learned that “mush” is the way you tell sled dogs to go faster and I’ve always wanted to go “super fast!”

What I love about skateboarding the most is that it really is a lifelong sport, and I plan to enjoy it long after I retire from the Olympics and the World Cup. Feeling myself challenging to fly the trail faster, to be able to enjoy different trails around the world and feel so nimble and powerful while skating is amazing.

Oldest memory of watching the Olympics or the Paralympics?

❝ I remember getting together with my high school classmates to sleep in to watch the 2010 Opening Ceremony in [Vancouver] the Olympics. When I saw the athletes I met and trained with in the camps walking in them, I was so proud of them, excited for them, and I hope to be able to do so someday!

Specific breakthrough moment?

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

What would you like to change in your sport?

❝ I hope we can have a relay with the men’s and women’s teams combined, like we did in biathlon. We have great team chemistry and we’re all training as one great team, so it will be exciting to show the depth of our nation and do the relay with both men and women!

Who is your coach?

I’ve been working with Jason Cork Throughout my World Cup career, since the day I graduated from high school. He is the smartest person I know, and an incredible student in sports. But most importantly, he understands me and knows happiness is quick, and he sees the bigger picture first. It will put my overall well-being before performance, and for that reason, I tend to perform better. He knows I like to do the best I can through training and will help keep me back so I don’t feel overwhelmed, but he also knows when it’s important for me to finish a really epic hard workout.

Who do you socialize with the most in your sport?

❝ Our entire team! I feel so lucky that our teams of men and women are training and competing together as one, because we are surrounded by so many people who work hard and are dedicated to raising us. I also meet up with my club mates in Stratton where I live and train in the summer between US ski team camps, and I am very close to my club team.

Closest friends with any competitors?

❝ Yes – I have friends on most teams in the World Cup circuit! In particular, I became close to the Norwegian women’s team and flew twice to join them for training camps. When I won the Tour de Ski [in 2021], I was getting text messages all the way from Norwegian friends telling me they were cheering for me! ❞

Biggest competitor?

❝ Because I have so many friends in the World Cup, I feel like I mostly race with the stopwatch and my own limits, not trying to beat anyone in particular. I am happy for my friends when they have a great race because I know the hard work it took to get there, and they are really happy for me in return!

Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist?

❝ Yes, since 2011, and it has been amazing. Having someone trusted to talk to about everything was a big deal to me. Not just in racing, but in recovering from my eating disorder early in my career, and navigating homesickness for five months down the road during World Cup races.

The big hurdle you overcame?

❝ Eating disorder I had at age 18. Mental health is so stigmatized in our society that we can blame ourselves and be too afraid to seek help. Crossing that barrier and accepting help and working to save my life with the professionals on Emily’s Program is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most important. This is also why I wrote my book Brave Enough. I wanted to give an honest, free account of how I developed my eating disorder and, most importantly, how I got my life back.

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

Biggest fear when competing?

❝That I would cross the finish line and realize that I had an ounce of energy left, and that I was too afraid to give it all I had.

Olympic or Paralympic role model?

Oksana Masters. The strength, agility and resilience you have all shown with such a positive attitude and amazing work ethic is the most impressive and inspiring thing to me!

Summer Olympic buddy?

I would love to meet Serena Williams. She is an amazing, powerful and inspiring role model for all women!

The greatest impact inside/outside the sport?

All my coaches, from my high school coach Chris Hansen To my current coach Jason Cork and the rest of the US cross country ski team. But most of all, my parents taught me to love skateboarding and supported me financially and emotionally through much of my career.

Would you advise a young athlete?

Do it because you love it When you have fun, you will naturally want to get out there and it won’t feel like all the hard work is a sacrifice at all, because with great people you play a sport that you really enjoy.

The best part of living in Olympic Village?

The camaraderie I had with so many winter sports that I usually never see them! All these different athletes and athletes come together to represent the country making it feel big and small at the same time

Where do you keep Pyeongchang’s gold?

❝ I don’t, because I want to wake up every day and earn the right to feel proud of myself for what I did that day. My medal in a hat in my parents’ basement

Do you play any other sport?

❝ We try to exercise a lot for our sport, so I enjoy cycling, swimming and a lot of running.

What summer Olympic event would you like to experience?

I would love to learn to fall like a gymnast! I think this is very badass

Have you ever been told that you will not succeed?

❝ No one has ever told me, but I still think that I must have no body fat to be successful as an endurance athlete. This really hurt me because I had an eating disorder, but by getting my health back first and then racing better because I was happy and healthy, I was able to prove to myself that a healthy athlete is one who makes a long successful career.❞

Any pre-competition rituals?

❝ Oh yeah I do! I put glitter on my cheeks as a reminder that skating is fun and me Get to do this! It’s a promise to myself that I’ll go out there and race with my heart, and if I can do it with 100% effort, then I should be proud of my day. I also dry my hair before the race as something to do with my hands when I’m stressed

Are you superstitious?

❝We only have striped socks that we wear for team relay events, and those are very special to us!

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