STRATTON, Vt. – Jessie Diggins loves her job. The Minnesota native is one of the best in the world at what she does and travels the globe to show it. She’s not married, has no kids, and one of the biggest things stressing the 21-year-old skier out these days is making time to take an online college exam between workouts.
Ten years from now, Diggins wants her genuine enjoyment to still be there so she occasionally has to take a break from her sport, she said during a July interview in Stratton, Vt., where she trains with the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team.
For some, that means watching a movie, reading a book or doing yoga. Diggins enjoys all of those things, but her athletic ability opens doors to more active ways to indirectly improve her skiing fitness, all while dialing down her fiercely competitive side that comes out in World Cup competition.
In May, she ran a half marathon in Minnesota, mostly abiding by the Level-2 intensity speed limit set by her coaches. She ended up third among women and 11th overall. In April, Diggins pedaled 75 paved miles of the non-competitive Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride on a mountain bike because she couldn’t lower the seat far enough on a road bike she was borrowing.
And before flying out to her summer training base in Stratton, following U.S. Ski Team (USST) testing in Park City, Utah, Diggins and USST assistant coach Jason Cork ascended the 11,752-foot Mount Timpanogos, the second-highest peak in Utah’s Wasatch Range.
“Part of what I need to do to really enjoy my job is kind of have fun with it and do some adventurous things that aren’t always on the pavement,” Diggins said.
Coming off an intense yet successful World Cup season, in which she won the World Championships freestyle team sprint with USST teammate Kikkan Randall, Diggins tried surfing and paddle boarding during a family vacation in Florida, and persisted until she could stand up and ride some small waves.
A few weeks later in Park City, she locked herself out of the USST condo on her way out for an evening hike. After several unanswered shouts to her teammates, Diggins resorted to scaling the three-story exterior rock wall of the building and hauled herself over the railing outside their room. She said she has a ton more stories of predicaments she has gotten herself into.
Already a world champion, Diggins doesn’t expect to win medals or prize money for every sport she dabbles in, and she doesn’t take occasional mishaps too seriously.
“You don’t have to be really good or a professional to enjoy something,” Diggins said. “Everyone can get out and train just for fun.”
It’s not unnatural for Diggins to flick the switch on her desire to win because she understands there is a time and place to drop the hammer. She said she just operates better when busy.
“When the gun goes off [for races and hard workouts], that’s when it’s time to be competitive,” Diggins said. “As soon as you’re done, it’s time to just drop it and be done and not be competing with anyone but yourself. I’m really happy that the competitiveness doesn’t take over my life.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Diggins didn’t have out-the-front door access to the type of mountain hikes and trail runs she has seen out West and in New England. There’s a lot to catch up on, but her excursions usually aren’t spontaneous. They are approved first by her USST and SMST2 coaches, all of which have been fine with Diggins getting mentally back on track by simply spending some time off track.
In a recent blog entry, Diggins expressed satisfaction in a more polished approach to her training this summer following her third season on the USST. She has found a balance between hard training and recovery, hasn’t neglected strength and technique work, and has a renewed focus on her goals.
“I love [summer] training,” Diggins said. “You can do really big volume weeks and just train yourself so hard and I think that’s really fun. You feel like you’re really getting somewhere and you’re working so hard. It’s really satisfying.”
Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.