Wednesday, June 12, 2013

JESSIE DIGGINS


As my ongoing pursuit of converting runners to cross country skiers continues, I’m excited to share this interview with you. At just 21 years old, Jessie Diggins is already one of the best skiers in the world.  After high school, Diggins took a leap of faith and decided to forego college in order to focus on skiing. The move paid off for the 3-time Minnesota State cross country champion.  The Afton resident has since gone on to win 9 U.S. Junior titles, and 5 U.S. titles. In addition, this past season she teamed up with Kikkan Randall to win the USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal in the team sprint as well as the first-ever victory in a World Cup team sprint.  To learn more about Jessie, be sure to check out her website, like her Facebook athlete page, and follow her on Twitter @jessdiggs. If that’s not enough, here’s a recent Star Tribune article by Andrew Krammer.

First off, congrats on a terrific season. Of course, the highlight had to be teaming up with Kikkan Randall to win the USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal, as well as the first-ever victory in a World Cup team sprint. Were you happy with how the season played out as a whole?
I was really happy with the past season…there were so many great moments, and good times traveling around the globe with the team! I have to say that while winning the USA’s first Gold at World Champs was one of the highlights, even more important to me was the team camaraderie, the fun times we had being a family while away from home for 5.5 months at a time.

The season has set you up nicely for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be this February in Sochi, Russia. Most of my readers are used to the track and field trials where runners have to place in the top-3 and meet qualifying time standards. How does it work with cross-country skiing? Do you still have to qualify or are you already guaranteed you a spot on the team?
Nobody is guaranteed a spot on the team yet; everyone has to earn it. But because of the nature of Cross Country Skiing, it’s a little harder to objectively qualify for the team…every race course is different, and different snow conditions can change the winning race time by minutes. But the USSA has published objective criteria, and to make the team you either need to be ranked top 50 in the world on the sprint or distance list, or make it based on discretion (if you were sick for the qualifying World Cups, for example), or you can be selected based on your FIS points and National ranking. Here's a LINK to the official qualifying criteria, if anyone is interested.

The Sochi medals were revealed recently. Did you take a look at them?
I saw a picture of them on Twitter, but I didn’t look too closely – I am motivated by the feeling of achieving a goal, not by the physical medal. I think my World Champs medal is in a drawer in the basement somewhere!

Nearly 18 months ago, on my personal blog, I wrote the following; “I really think some company should sign Jessie Diggins to a long-term sponsorship deal ASAP. Think about it, she’s having a tremendous rookie season on the World Cup, she’s attractive, speaks well on camera and writes an entertaining blog. Oh yeah, and she’s only 19. That means she’ll be 22 at the next Winter Olympics, then 26, and then 30. She will be around for a while and could easily become as the face of the Olympic Games for the U.S. What do you think? I know you have sponsorships through the U.S. Ski Team, but have any other companies come calling?
Oh wow, thank you for the kind words! I do have some personal sponsorships outside of the U.S. Ski Team and my club team, SMST2. My headgear sponsor is Slumberland Furniture, I am sponsored by the T2 Foundation, and my equipment sponsors are: Salomon, One Way, Rudy Project, and Powerbar. There are also a number of very generous individuals and companies in the Midwest that have helped me to fundraise and have donated to my training and travel fund. I couldn’t get anywhere without the support of my sponsors and community, and I’m so thankful!

[NOTE: if you'd like to donate to Jessie, you can find out more HERE - you can even donate your airline miles to help with her travel expenses.]

The Star Tribune's Rachel Blount wrote a nice article on you last winter that described your season as including 39-race, 10-countries, and lasting 5-months. You do a terrific job on your website of keeping everyone up to date on your racing, sharing pictures of these beautiful ski venues, and filling us in on all the fun you’re having with your teammates. Is it as glamorous as it sounds or does it get to grueling too?
There are so many glamorous moments, where you wake up and go out to train on perfectly groomed tracks in a beautiful town, and think “wow, I have the best job in the world!” Then there are the slightly less glamorous moments when you’re dragging your ski bag through the snow at 4:30 am after an 8 hour bus ride through Russia…and those moments are tougher. But overall the amazing moments and experiences of racing around the world far outweigh the homesickness and tough traveling moments. Especially with such a great team!

If you had to pick, what is your favorite place to ski in the world? What about the U.S.? And Minnesota?
Oh man, that’s a hard question! There is something great about almost every place I’ve ever skied in, and for different reasons. But my top picks? Les Saisies, France has some phenomenal trails that go through woods, field and have fun twisting downhills. Davos, Switzerland has wide open trails that run right alongside the town and river, so when you’re done skiing you can walk right into a shop for coffee and then hop a bus back to the hotel, which is really awesome. And SilverStar, Canada has some fantastic trails and race courses, which go through a super cute town with brightly colored and lit houses dotting the slopes.

In the U.S. (and Minnesota), I’d have to say my favorite place to ski is Giants Ridge, and especially the silver loop, because of the swooping and turning hills that you can carry your momentum over. I have such fun memories from training camp there with the Stillwater High School team; skiing all the trails, doing night sprints, going sledding.

Just one example of the beautiful ski trails of the world.
When you’re ski season does come to a close, you’re very good about giving back to the sport, especially to the next generation of skiers. What are some of the types of activities you do and how can people contact you if they’re interested in learning more?
I have a slideshow presentation that I give to schools, clubs, and ski teams, and I talk about what it’s like to be a professional athlete and travel around the world competing and training. I love doing these visits because it’s so fun to see young kids get fired up about the idea of becoming a professional athlete themselves! It inspires me to work even harder, so one day when I’m passing around my race bibs, I can also pass around an Olympic medal. Parents, coaches and teachers contact me to do these talks through my website, on the "share the success" page where I link my email address.

Another skier I interviewed said, “By definition, all skiers cross train.” What do you like to do to stay fit when you’re not skiing?
That’s one of the things I love about this sport; in order to train really hard and not get injured, you get to do many sports! In the spring and early summer especially we do a variety of cross-training, and as fall and the race season approaches we gradually do more and more skiing-only. I do a lot of running, weight lifting, some swimming, and my favorite way to cool down after strength is to learn new tricks on the trampolines at the Center of Excellence (in Park City, Utah, where the USST has its headquarters). And many of my teammates bike as well.

Since this is mostly a running site, I’d better ask what is your running background is like? Stillwater obviously has a strong running tradition, were you ever part of that?
I actually swam in high school, and never joined the cross country running team, but I had a great time in track! I used to try everything I could; the 4x800, 4x400, the 300m hurdles, triple jump, pole vault…you name it! I really love to run the trails in the park, though. I do a lot of running in the Afton State Park, since it’s 3 miles from my house, and I especially love the single track trails. It’s easy to just get into a rhythm and blank my mind when I’m running those trails, and it’s cross training that I really enjoy.

Finally, much has been written about your decision to postpone college in order to focus on skiing professionally. Obviously, it has worked out for you, but there’s still some debate as to whether or not it’s right for everyone. Can you offer some insight into why you think things have worked out so well for you?
Not going to college was definitely a bit of a gamble, and one that many people have questioned as they look into their own options. I am the type of person that can’t stand to do something halfway…so I knew that if I went to school, I’d be trying to train 700+ hours per year while getting straight A’s, and I knew that I would eventually hate both school and skiing. I had to choose one or the other.

When I decided to postpone college, I had a full academic scholarship to Northern Michigan University on hold, so I could take a year to try out skiing full time with a great plan B. I knew that if I didn’t enjoy it for some reason or got really injured, I could still go to school and focus on academics. And I feel so fortunate to have parents that were fully supportive of my plans, and they helped me come up with a solid plan for if I did or didn’t want to become a full-time skier. Ultimately, I think the main reason things worked out so well for me was because I truly love skiing and the lifestyle that is required of a professional athlete. I like training myself into the ground, I don’t mind living out of a suitcase, and I think traveling all over is fun and a great opportunity for a whole different kind of education, one that you just can’t get in a classroom.

1 comment:

Magnus Hallqvist said...

Great interview and Jessie for sure have a lot of Swedish fans of who I'm most definitly one. Overall it's so great to see the US national team and their succes. The world cup gets better with more teams racing in the top. Oh, and Jessie seems like a very likable person and is cute like a button wich is never a bad thing. Looking forward to see more of here on the WC in the future and if she is a great competitor now, she has the potential to be one of the best in a couple of years!