For Jessie Diggins, cross-country skiing is just something she loves to do — and happens to be pretty great at (the historic gold medal that she won Wednesday with relay partner Kikkan Randall at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics is proof). However, Diggins admits, she wasn’t an “amazing talent from day one. I’m just like your girl next door.”
Sure, she calls herself your “average” Minnesotan, but she stands out on slopes with her “poppy and snappy” skiing style and bubbly personality to match.
Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with the women’s team sprint freestyle race winner, who just so happens to be one of the first American cross country skiers to take home any medal at the games since 1976, about her signature standout style, her morning routine, and what’s next.
Yahoo Lifestyle: What’s the first thing that you do on the morning of a competition?
Jessie Diggins: Mornings are actually kind of hard for me, so the first thing I do is have coffee. Every day. I stumble out of bed and go right for the coffee. But then I have a really big breakfast. Usually like oatmeal with berries and nuts and yogurt, and whatever I have — I just throw it in there. That’s what I eat before a race or before training so I’m starting off on the right foot. And yeah, the caffeine wakes me up.
Does your diet change at all when you’re competing?
Not really, because in the summer we’re training. I train like twice a day, six days a week, and you’re putting in between 3 to 4 hours of cardio a day. It’s a lot, so we eat a lot. Then when you’re racing, you are training less, but the races take so much out of you. I mean, whenever you’re hungry, you just eat. And then you’re generally fine. It’s a little different on the road because from November through March we’re in Europe and living out of hotels, so you don’t have as much control over what you get to eat. You eat what the hotel serves you, so sometimes that is a little trickier.
Does Olympic Village typically have what you like to eat?
Actually, Team USA ski and snowboard team is doing their own kind of meal plan for the athletes just to reduce the amount of different people that are coming through. Because for us, we can’t get sick. If we have even a common cold, we can’t compete — and that’s maybe different than some other sports. So they’re trying to make sure that we have some really healthy foods and a lot of options that are maybe really familiar to us.
How do you manage to avoid getting sick?
That’s a great question because it’s really hard to avoid it. But I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables. I eat a lot of vitamin C whenever I can. So, eating a lot of fresh oranges, honestly. Staying really hydrated and washing my hands a ton. I try not to be a freak with the hand sanitizer because it just dries your hands out, and I think you can definitely go overboard with it. But that said, on an airplane, I’m not touching my face before I put hand sanitizer on.
What’s the most surprising thing you pack?
I mean, I don’t know if it would be surprising to other people, but I pack Aeropress and my own coffee, ’cause that’s important. I pack gum from the US, so I have like a massive bag of gum. Because the gum in Europe is different, and I don’t like it. And a jar of peanut butter. You can’t get the same kind of peanut butter over there. So, it’s usually funny little things like that that I pack. I also have a picture of my family that I travel with, and I put it up in every hotel room just to make it a little more like home, so you’re not just in this room that has nothing of you in it.
Who is the woman that inspires you most right now?
My mom. And I know that sounds maybe cheesy, but I’m really, really close with my family. I Skype with them every week. And my mom is just an incredible woman. She’s so smart, she’s witty, she’s funny. But she’s so hardworking and so driven, and I really hope that I turn out like her someday. It’s been really inspiring to me how she always knows exactly what to say if I’m nervous before a race. Or if a race hasn’t gone well, she also knows what to say, which is probably more important. And so she’s coming to the olympics — I have a bunch of people coming. But it’s gonna be really special for me to have her there.
What is it like to be a woman in sports?
It’s really cool being a girl in this sport, particularly, because we get paid the same as the men — which is huge — we get the same media coverage as the men, the same sponsorship opportunities as the men, and we get to race the same places and we travel together as a team, which is very, very cool and I think different than some other sports. So we’re really like this family unit, and we really support each other. And I feel that I get so much just total, unconditional cheering and support from the guys, and we give the same to them. It’s a very, very cool partnership that is a really special part of this team.
Who are your role models in the sport? And have you accepted that you’re a role model to young girls yourself?
I gotta say, every single one of my teammates, past and present, I’ve looked up to. Because you learn something different from everyone and there are so many styles of leadership, and you see that, in their own way, everyone has a role to play and everyone has something to contribute that is totally vital to the team.
As far as being a role model to other young women, it’s still kind of a brand new thing for me. I’m very average. I don’t have a crazy aerobic system, I wasn’t an amazing talent from day one. I’m just like your girl next door who really loves to ski and I think that’s really important that all the little girls back home in Minnesota where I grew up know that same thing. Because then they know, ‘if she can do it, I can do it. And if she has these goals and is working towards them, then that would work for me too.’ And I really hope that I can inspire at least a couple of kids to stick with a sport and feel really empowered by doing sports.
You headed into the Sochi Olympics with red, blonde, and blue hair. Has your hair become your trademark?
It’s kind of funny because I wasn’t trying to have it be my thing, but it is a very easy way to pick me out because I’m a very bouncy skier. That’s kind of my style — I’m very poppy and snappy, so my hair jumps around everywhere. But I think my actual trademark is the glitter. Before every race I put glitter on both my cheeks and I glitter up my teammates as well. For me, it means that I’m gonna go out there and ski as hard as I can and give it my all because that’s all you could ever do — just give it everything you have. It’s this kind of salute to the little kid that just wants to ski super speed, and so the glitter is a reminder to myself that I love this sport, I have fun, and I’m gonna keep it fun.
I had a teammate who would always say, ‘look good, feel good, race fast.’ It was just about feeling confident and feeling sure of yourself when you’re out on the race course. So for me, just a tiny little spark is all I need. But now I’m kind of known for it because for the last seven years in the World Cup, I’ve been skiing around with glitter on my cheeks.
How else do you integrate your creative self into your sport?
For me, it’s more about feeling normal on the road — having hobbies and not being all about skiing all the time. Because I’m not a robot. I actually play guitar now on the road. I have this little hot pink mini travel guitar that I travel with, and I love learning new songs. I also love dancing if I have a day off or an easy workout. Learning a new dance routine is really fun for me.
What are your plans for when the Olympics are over?
Actually, funny you say that, because when our Olympics are over we go back to the World Cup. So we don’t get to go home. We go race some more, which is kind of hard because it’s like a little bit anticlimactic sometimes. But when the season’s over and I go home, the first thing I do is lay on the floor and cuddle my dogs.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Some Olympic sports are ‘ladies,’ some are ‘women’s’: Here’s why it matters
- Twin sisters challenge sexism in ice hockey: ‘It’s not just for boys’
- What 11 Olympians packed to make PyeongChang feel a little more like home