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(Photo courtesy of Sarah Brunson/USST)

We asked, they answered: Jessie Diggins

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In late January, Republican Eagle sports reporter Kyle Stevens caught up with Olympic cross-country skier Jessie Diggins. The Afton, Minn., native was travelling through Europe, competing in the World Cup. 

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On Tuesday, Diggins and the rest of her team are schedule to arrive in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympic Games. 

What has the daughter of the Red Wing Slumberland owners been up to? Well, catch up below, and afterward, take a look at her blog (www.jessiediggins.com), which features updates and photos from her tour of Europe.

KS: What have you been up to you lately? You were in Poland when I first contacted you.

JD: We raced two World Cups in Poland, and then came up to Italy. We’re training here for our pre-Olympic camp because it’s up at altitude, which will get us loose for what we do with training. Now, basically every other national team is here, the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Italians, the Canadians. It’s really fun.

KS: Is there any team there that you try and model yourself after? Is there a favorite that you look at, or do you try and do your own thing?

JD: You don’t want to change what you’re doing, especially if it’s working, so we follow our own training plans. 

That said, we’re good friends with a lot of the girls on other teams, some of the Italian girls and the Norwegian girls. We’ve done training camps with the Swedish girls. So it’s really fun knowing that if we’re doing a distance skate tomorrow, we can hook up and ski together.

KS: What’s been the most difficult part for you going into the professional ranks? It looks like on your blog that you’re certainly enjoying yourself with where you get to go.

JD: One of the hardest things is definitely that we are on the road for five months in Europe. Thanks to Skype, I’m able to stay in touch with family and friends and that helps if I ever get homesick. 

But I think the hardest thing for me and a lot of skiers when they first get on the World Cup is learning to accept and believe in yourself and that you belong racing on the World Cup. It’s really intimidating, and if you have a bad race, you’re saying, “Oh, what am I doing here? I can’t race against these people, they’re the best in the world.” You just have to get through that block and to have really good, positive self-talk that you belong here. And that’s when you start really doing well, when you get that confidence.

KS: On the other side of it, like I mentioned with your blog, it looks like you’re finding yourself in some really nice areas and having a good time.

JD: Definitely. It’s a really fun time. It’s cool because you jump from one country to another every weekend, and you never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes you’re in an incredibly nice hotel eating a five-course dinner, and sometimes you’re eating potatoes three times a day and not in a very nice hotel. It just depends on where you are and what hotel we get put into. But it’s fun that way. It’s never boring, that’s for sure.

KS: You have the Olympics coming up. What’s the feeling knowing that you’re going to wear the flag and compete on the highest level there is?

JD: I’m so excited, especially to be representing my country and Minnesota. One thing I’m really looking forward to is my family is coming. My parents, my grandma and my sister, and my headgear sponsor, Slumberland Furniture, the owner and his wife are also coming. It’s going to be so cool to have a little bit of home there with me, knowing that they’re watching and cheering us on. And I’m just excited because we’ve been working so hard for so long. Maybe there are sports out there where you can make a big push the year of the Olympics and make it. But for us, we’ve been training the last five, six years, full-time, hard-core training, and waiting for the chance to show off what we’ve been working on. I’m just hoping everything goes smoothly. I’m really excited to see how the races go.

KS: Is that the toughest thing for people to understand about the Olympics. You get a hockey player that gets drafted within the last two years, and he proves himself and he gets to go to the Olympics, whereas you guys spend your entire life hoping to get to one.

JD: I don’t know, maybe people understand that. I do know that cross-country skiing in the U.S. is a very little-known sport. People kind of think of us as these forest fairies running around in the woods. But it’s so much more than that. We have sprint heats where people are crashing into each other and going down. It’s a contact sport. You train for hours and hours, we lift weights, we do intervals, we do long distance runs and skis for up to four hours at a time. It’s incredibly hard training, but it’s incredibly rewarding, you get this incredible body that will take you anywhere you want to go. 

You get great endorphins after the races and the workouts. But it does take a lot of time and commitment, and it is a full-time job. We get the month of April and part of May off, but starting in mid-May it’s back into training and we train all the way through November, then race the end of November through March. It’s definitely a lot of work. But it’s so rewarding.

KS: What’s the main thing you’re looking forward to outside the actual competition?

JD: The biggest thing is going to be the Opening Ceremonies. I’ve heard so many cool stories, and everyone says it’s the most amazing feeling when you walk into that arena as a nation with all the other sports from your country. For me, it’s going to be really cool because my parents are going to be in the crowd, so to look for them and to wave to them, I think (that will be) the moment where it’s like, “Wow. I made it.”

KS: What are your expectations going in? 

JD: The events that I hope to compete in – they can’t name who’s going to start each event yet because they have to see who’s healthy, who’s sharp – but the events I’m gunning for are the 15K Skiathalon, the skate (freestyle), the 4-by-5K relay and the 30K skate. I think the biggest goal is definitely the relay. I would really like to be the anchor leg of that. I’ve gotten to anchor every relay the USA has fielded on the World Cup since the 2011 World Championships. So I feel like for us to be able to get a medal in this Olympics would be huge for the team, for our country and for our sport. For U.S. cross-country skiing, for women, we’ve never gotten an Olympic medal before. We’ve never got one. To be able to do that in a team event would be incredible.

KS: Is there any other event you hope to catch while you’re there?

JD: I think we’re going to have a bit of a media blackout, and we’re going to be doing a lot of focus on recovery between the races because you have to prep your body as soon as you can to be ready for the next race. But I am hoping that I’ll have enough free time to see my family while I’m there. I know security is going to be tight, and it’s a bit of a deal travelling down from the (Olympic) Village to Sochi where they’ll be staying. But I would love to see them because I haven’t seen them in a couple months.

KS: Do you have any reservations considering the world view of Sochi and the fear of terrorism?

JD: I’m not concerned for myself at all. When we were there for the test event, security was great. It’s the Olympics, I think every precaution will be there. 

And I’m pretty sure my family will be completely safe as well. They’re staying in a great area, a safe area, and they’ll be surrounded by tons of other families and media people. I’m feeling very good about that.

KS: What’s in your future? Do you see yourself doing this again in four years?

JD: Absolutely. In this sport, it is such an endurance sport, and it takes so many years to start reaching the top level that once you’re there, you can keep going for a bit. So I’m hoping to go to the next two Olympics after this for sure. I’m want to keep competing into my 30s.

KS: It sounds like you’ll have a good cheering section, both in Sochi and around the area.

JD: Yeah, I just want to add that the local support means so much to me. It’s incredible to know that the people who matter, the people who have your back, the local support, are the ones that matter to me. These are the people that have been cheering for me since day one and who are going to love me just the same whether I come home with a medal or whether someone trips me and I fall and I don’t come home with anything. It’s a good feeling getting all these emails and congratulations and good-luck wishes from everyone back home.

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Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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