Interview: For Diggins, Big Changes While Trying to Keep Everything Else the Same

Chelsea LittleMay 23, 2012
Jessie Diggins (left) at the finish of 30 k freestyle mass start at U.S. Distance Nationals in Craftsbury, Vt., at the end of March. She didn't know then that it would be her last race in a CXC suit.

BEND, Ore. – Jessie Diggins had a big year in 2012.

After thoroughly dominating the domestic racing scene in the fall and early winter, the CXC and U.S. Ski Team athlete headed to Europe, where she immediately made a splash on the World Cup. In her first race there, in Milan, she finished 18th in the freestyle sprint, then followed it up with a second-place finish in the team sprint with Kikkan Randall.

Diggins went on to have two top-ten performances in Russia, and contribute to a noteworthy fifth-place relay result by the U.S. women. Her efforts netted her, at age 20, a 34th-place ranking on the World Cup and inclusion in the top-30-only Red Group for distance racing – as well as an “A” nomination to the national team, a step up from her place on the “B” team that season.

But the excitement didn’t end with the season, and the Minnesota native had a noteworthy spring, too – in a different way. Both of her coaches at CXC left the program: Jason Cork to take Pete Vordenberg’s position with the U.S. Ski Team, and Gus Kaeding to head the newly formed Stratton Elite team. Diggins made a quick but deeply considered decision to leave CXC and join the Stratton team.

FasterSkier sat down with Diggins on the porch of the U.S. Ski Team house on Sunday, and talked about how her life has changed in the last six months.

FasterSkier: It seems like the coaching and club changes were probably not something you were planning to consider, right?

Jessie Diggins: It was not necessarily a surprise, because once I heard that Pete was retiring, Cork has done such an awesome job as a coach that we were like, well, there’s only so many coaches that are left, that they’re going to ask. And also that he’s one of the first choices you’d want. But at the same time, I was coming back from vacation and getting calls from teammates going, “What are we going to do?” And I was going, “What? Fill me in!”

I think that no matter how well you try to prepare for a transition, it’s always going to be hard, and I decided that the last two years working with Gus and Cork have been so perfect that if something works, don’t change it. It takes so long for me to get used to a new coach, a new style of coaching, and for them to know what I’m working on, that it would be really nice if I could keep things as stable as possible.

FS: You said earlier that you would still be in Minnesota a little bit. How is that going to work with the Stratton team?

JD: The longest I’ll be in Vermont will be three weeks, because it’s in between these U.S. Ski Team camps. I was thinking about it, and I don’t know if I want to move everything out there, to move my life to Vermont, if I’m not going to be anywhere for more than three weeks at a time. And I still have so many great friends and such a good support base in Minnesota as well that I don’t want to just pack up and leave. Just because CXC isn’t going to work out for me doesn’t mean that the community won’t work out.

FS: So how much time do you think you’ll actually get to spend there?

JD: I’ll have almost two weeks after this camp, and then a week in July, and a little in the fall. It’s not as much time in any one place as I might want, but that’s the price you pay for getting to travel to all these other sweet locations.

FS: You’ve obviously done the camp thing plenty of times, but how do you think it will affect you to be away from home so much?

JD: I think it will be really fun, actually, I think it will be really nice to get a totally new– I’ve never been to the Stratton area. The only spot in Vermont I’ve been to was Spring Series [in Craftsbury]. I’ve only ever heard good things about the training and rollerskiing, and that it’s a beautiful area, so I think it will be a nice change while keeping everything else stable.

Diggins in the 10 k classic at World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden.

The other piece is that I’m really excited to be joining this team, and I already know everyone on the team. I’ve gotten to meet them all and I really like them all – I have such great respect for everyone on that team. They’re all such hard workers. So it’s nice to be able to join a team and pretty much know what you’re going to get.

FS: Last year was such a big step for you, was there specific stuff from last year in terms of planning and training that you’ll be trying to carry on?

JD: I think a lot of it for me was learning a little bit more about myself, and taking care of myself outside of skiing – like how much sleep I need to get a night. Stuff like that is so simple, and it should be so easy, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Like, it’s easy to forget to take the ten minutes to foam roll, but then you’re so sore the next day that you can’t really do your intervals. So just over time picking up on stuff like that.

I’ve been still working on trying to figure out the mental side of it, but I know that if my head’s in a good place I’ll race better, and if I’m out there for the fun of it, actually able to enjoy what I’m doing, I’m going to get more out of it and race faster.

So figuring out those things was really nice, because going into this year I’ll know if I’m super miserable and I’m tired and this and that, then just don’t race! I’ve learned these things so I’m not digging myself into a hole or anything.

FS: All that stuff must be a lot harder when you’re over in Europe on the World Cup.

JD: I was kind of nervous because I’ve never spent more than a month over there, and this year was quite a bit more time, but it was so great because we had a little ski family. There would be times when I’d come in and be so homesick, but then we’d cook Mexican food as a team or do something to try to get a little bit of America, and it was so nice to be able to feel that. Even if you’re on the road and you’re not going to be able to see your family you can skype them, and you have friends on the team.

FS: Are you going to spend the whole season on the World Cup this season?

JD: I think so. Right now the plan is, Novermber 11th we fly over and we’ll do the ones over there, and then we get to do some in Canada. My family is planning on coming to the Quebec ones, which is really nice. My mom was born there, so we’ve always wanted to go up there anyway, so now it’s like, “sweet!” Family vacation and some racing.

FS: That should be a really fun race, too.

JD: I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never gotten to race the World Cups in Canada before, so it’s going to be really fun.

And then maybe a quick stop at home, but I’d really like to race the Tour de Ski. It’s a big goal of mine – I think it’s just a badass challenge. And then just kind of seeing if I can carry out the rest of the season, and racing Spring Series here.

It will be kind of sad missing Nationals, and not starting the season out in West Yellowstone is going to be weird, but I think it’s a good change.

FS: Starting in the U.S. worked really well for you last year – is it tough to know you’re just going to be jumping straight into World Cups?

JD:  Something I’ve learned is that I like to race my way into the season. I’ll know that I’m in shape, I’m fit, I’m ready to race, but the first couple of races are getting the kinks out. The World Cup is not very forgiving. If you don’t have a very good day you will just drop like a stone on the results sheet. So that will be interesting to see in the fall, to be patient with it and work my way into the season.

Diggins in West Yellowstone, Mont., where she kicked off the 2011-12 season.

I really did enjoy getting to start my season in the U.S. last year. It was in some ways less pressure and in some ways a ton more pressure, so it will just be completely different this year. We’ll see how it goes.

FS: In terms of teams and funding and sponsors, has that changed a lot since your latest results?

JD: Yes. On CXC, it was a cool system where when I joined, I would not have been able to get sponsorships on my own. I would not have been able to pull any sort of deal. But the older people on the team who have the results and the names, they pull in the big deals and that helps the younger kids. So that really helped me going in last year. You feel like you’re able to give back because you’re pulling in the sponsors that will help the juniors get the skis and the equipment that they need. So, from that standpoint it was hard to leave because I would like to be able to give back more if I could. I was able to for a couple years.

Now that I’m not on a team it leaves you able to pursue whatever sponsorships you want, and that’s cool. It’s a little overwhelming to be signing contracts. It’s part of the job that I never thought about when I started skiing. But I’ve realized that that’s a big part of it if you want to be able to ski for the next ten years. You have to get smart about signing contracts and stuff like that.

FS: Have you had a lot of help and advice from your teammates?

JD: A lot from these guys and coaches, and my parents helped me out, saying make sure you don’t forget this or that in your contract and make sure you read the fine print. Little things like that. But all of the contracts and sponsorships that I’ve had, they take such good care of me. I trust them. I know that when I sign with Salomon, they’re looking out for me and not just trying to use me. We work together, so it’s nice to know that.

FS: So you’re still on the same equipment.

JD: Yes.

FS: And how is the camp going so far?

JD: It’s great. We’re in the same house as we were last year, so we have some good memories already. And I think the camp is twice as much fun for me because this year I know everyone on the team, and I know where I fit in, because last year I definitely had the deer in the headlights look. I was trying to figure everything out, and always so worried about forgetting my boots or skis, and this year I can just enjoy it.

FS: There were a lot of rookies last year, so now it’s just more comfortable for all of you to be together?

JD: Yeah, Holly’s technically a rookie but not really. She knows her way around.

FS: In terms of the coaching change, last year when you were here you didn’t have Cork out here. So is that a big improvement?

JD: That’s been really nice because although it was a bit of a shakeup for CXC, for me it didn’t change things and it might have even I think gotten better for me. I feel bad saying this because it sucked for the club team! But Cork and Matt [Whitcomb, the U.S. Ski Team women’s coach] are going to be my main coaches. Cork has always written my training plan, and now I’ll be able to see them on the road all winter, which is perfect. Because when you’re writing someone’s training plan you can always write it, but it’s easier when you can watch them race, and if you know that athlete you can look at them and say, “I can tell you’re tired, I’m going to change this part.”

FS: Was that something that was hard when you were first on the World Cup?

JD: It was just a lot more work to keep up because you have to be really good on the communication back and forth, so sometimes I’d be tired after a race and wait a little while to send in my training log. So it made it harder for him to write the next week, not knowing and not having seen how the race went.

Chelsea Little

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