Interview: Jessie DigginsJuly 18, 2010
Jessie Diggins has been a dominant force on the Midwest juniors racing scene since she first started skiing with the Stillwater High School team more than five years ago. She's won three State titles, including a dramatic come from behind victory over friend and rival Annie Hart last February. In recent years, she has been working out with some of the top skiers in the nation with summer training in places such as Soldier Hollow. Graduating from Stillwater last spring, Diggins has elected to forgo entrance into college to concentrate on Nordic skiing and is one of the newest members of the CXC Elite Team.
We interviewed Diggins last week, shortly after her return from the Regional Elite Group camp at Cresthill Resort where she showed some strong form, including the women's top time in the camp rollerski time trial.
- You wrapped up the Regional Elite Camp last week, how'd things go?
The REG camp is always a ton of fun because although it's a hard week of training, it's a chance to hang out at the lake with some seriously talented athletes from across the midwest and get to know some new people. It's also good to hammer out some fun time trials and work on coordination, like the annual sprint where we weave around cones, ski backwards and go off-road in the time trial.
- In the REG rollerski time trial you topped Olympian Caitlin Compton. Were you surprised by your results or did you feel it was right on track with your fitness?
I was happy with how the time trial went, but I try to never took too hard at rollerski time trial results - especially in July! I'm more concerned with putting out a good effort and getting a great workout in than where I finish or who I measure up to...I like to save the competitive side for snow. That's not to say it wasn't super fun to race with all the REG athletes and CXC girls though! Having other athletes there to push you and encourage you to do better always improves workout quality.
- Coming out the REG camp testing, are there areas you feel you need to work on?
Oh wow, there are so many things I'm working on now I'm not sure I can list them all! It's funny because as you improve as an athlete, there seem to be MORE instead of less things to improve on! One big one for me is making sure I hold technique together in intervals or time trials when I start getting tired, and making sure I don't just fall apart. Another aspect is balance and learning to glide longer on each ski. The strength testing showed me that upper body strength is once again a weakness, although thankfully better than last year!
- You're taking a year "off" after graduating from Stillwater HS and have joined up with the CXC Elite team. What factors helped drive your decision?
I think the biggest factor of all was knowing that my parents and family were 100% supportive of my goals and were willing to back me up. I'm so thankful that I have flexible parents who were willing to take the chance with me! Of course I was (and still am) a little nervous about postponing my education, but I only have one life and I want to see what I can do with the sport I love.
- Are you planning to enter Northern Michigan Fall of 2011 or will it depend on your progress/results this season?
So far, the plan is to go to NMU in 2011, but we'll have to see what happens this year.
- Any idea where you'll be racing this season -- the SuperTour series or more regional events?
I'm excited to do more of the supertour races this year for sure - and it will be so much nicer when I don't feel guilty about skipping school to go to them! If possible, I'd like to race some more in the midwest, but I also want to be careful to not overload on races, so I guess I'll have to see how it plays out this winter.
- How about your first full Birkie or will you be skiing shorter distances?
Oh man, I've always wanted to do the full Birkie! I actually tried to sneak into it a few years ago - I was in the korte and when I got to the cutoff I was like "wow, I feel great and this is fun! I think I'm just going to do the birkie" but the officials called me out on it and made me turn around. I'm not sure if I'll be racing the korte or the full this year, but the whole weekend is definitely one of my favorite things.
- The 2010 dual between you and Anne Hart was one of the most exciting races in the history of the State Meet. Can you take us back through the classical pursuit where you started with a 26 second lead? (Rumors you were sick in the days leading up to the race..?)
First of all, the "sick" thing was because shortly after the state meet, I realized I had Mono and had to end my season before JO's, which was a bummer, but I DEFINITELY DO NOT want to make excuses or take anything away from any of the other girls racing out there that day! Some days you get out of bed ready to rock and roll, and some days you feel a little weird and just have to gut it out till the finish line. I can't honestly say I had a rock n' roll type of day, but I'm never going to use being sick as an excuse and at the end of the day, it's about who went fast and not who was the healthiest.
I was crazy nervous for the classic race because I've never had as much confidence in classic as I do in skate. And I felt incredible pressure (mostly pressure I put on myself to do well) but I really, REALLY wanted our Stillwater girls team to win the state meet and I knew that we'd be fighting for every point we could get. I knew I had a short lead going into the race (I think it was 15 seconds), but I also knew that Annie is a great skier and would be chasing me down. I could hear people cheering all around the course and I could tell she was gaining time on me, and at the high point of the course we were together. I tried to draft her a little on the downhill but I was still losing time, and there was a gap in between us before we shot into the stadium. I definitely thought for a moment that she had me and I was going to finish second. But when we rounded the corner and I could see the finish line, I gave it everything I had and just got lucky with the finishing kick. It was really cool because the noise was deafening and all I could hear was people screaming for the two of us. I feel super lucky to get to race against such a determined and talented skier such as Annie! It was also super neat to get to cheer on the rest of my team as they came across, and see them putting 100% effort into the last meters of their races. They put it all out there, for sure!
The coolest part of the day? My coach Kris Hansen had never really seen me finish a race before since she was always cheering in the woods and giving splits. But that day she booked it to the stadium and for the first time that year saw me cross the line. My mom was also at the finish, and I ran straight into the two of them once I was done and it was worth every second of pain from the race to see the looks on their faces.
- At what age do you remember first skiing and starting to race?
My parents took me skiing before I could walk; I was in the backpack yelling for my dad to ski faster! I went to the MYSL ski club at Willow River park in WI, and did lots of fun citizens races like the Mora Vasaloppet and Korte. And then I joined the Stillwater High School ski team in 7th grade.
- When did you first feel you had the potential to go far in XC skiing? Was there a watershed race?
Not really, actually...I just really like the people and cool places we travel to, so I kept going. Instead of a watershed race, I had an awesome ski team (Stillwater High School) that made me want to get outside every day.
- What advice can you give to high school skiers aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
You gotta do it because you LOVE IT! If you don't like the training or being outside in the snow, it's way harder to excel in skiing because 90% of the sport is the hard work and training, and only a small amount of time is travel and racing.
- When you're not training or resting, what hobbies do you enjoy?
I like to read, play violin, scrapbook, play with my dogs and goof around with friends. I also love going on camping or canoeing trips with my parents. Pretty much anything!
- Where is your favorite place to ski? And rollerski?
Rollerskiing is easy - Afton! It's got some of the best terrain around and less traffic, and I'll always see other people running, biking or skiing out on the roads. I like to ski at Giants Ridge, Silverstar BC, Soldier's Hollow, West Yellowstone - basically anywhere with great hills and good snow!
You can follow Diggins' progress this season in her new blog, jessiediggins.com.