US skier Jessie Diggins “Going Viking”

Norway House honors legendary Minnesota athlete

diggins

Photo courtesy of Jessie Diggins
Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins was the first U.S. woman to win the World Cup trophy.

Michael Kleiner
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Like many Norwegian parents, Jessie Diggins’ exposed their daughter to skiing at a young age. She would be placed in one of their backpacks while her mother and father skied. Little Jessie would tug at her father’s hair, and yell, “Faster!”

The Diggins aren’t Norwegian, but she was raised in Afton, Minn., a Nordic settlement. Now, at age 31, Diggins has mastered “faster” as the best U.S. woman cross-country skier in history, among the elite in the world, leading a revolution in American women’s cross-country skiing.

She spends her winters competing against Norwegians and other Europeans, and now Norway House in Minneapolis honored her with a “Going Viking” award, which embodies traits Tom Veblen describes in his book Going Viking as:

  • endeavor
  • culture
  • knowledge
  • purpose
  • self-governance
  • modesty

The crossroads for Diggins came on Feb. 21, 2018, at the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang, South Korea, when she won a photo finish in the team sprint freestyle, becoming the first American to win a cross-country gold medal.

She finished second in the World Cup standings that season behind Norway’s Heidi Weng.

Diggins finished sixth the next two seasons, placing behind four Norwegians in 2020.

Then came 2020-2021. Diggins won the World Cup, the first American to win the trophy. She was No. 1 in Distance, No. 4 in Sprint, and had eight podiums (3-1-4). Teammate Rosie Brennan was fourth overall. She overcame adversity. It was the height of the pandemic. She was isolated from her teammates, who she treasures, and was away from her fiancé. Diggins is philosophical and reflective about her skiing career.

“This was the most challenging season I’ve ever faced, without the ability to see (fiancé, now husband) Wade or my family for four months,” writes Diggins in a post on her website.

“As a team, we were extremely cautious in our COIVD protocol, which meant significant challenges in keeping a light and fun team atmosphere without the ability to interact as a group in person. Despite this, we had our most successful season to date.

“[The best part about winning the World Cup was] getting to celebrate it with the team. This is NOT the kind of thing anyone achieves alone. I sincerely hope all my teammates, coaches, staff, and volunteers feel ownership in this, because I feel a team ownership whenever I look at these globes. Having the increased visibility for our sport through the press. I hope it creates more opportunities for the next generation of skiers. Having a bigger platform to shout about these amazing causes: The Emily Program (eating awareness and treatment); Share Winter (“enrich lives of youth through winter sports”); Protect Our Winters (“athletes, scientists, creatives, and business leaders advancing non-partisan policies that protect our world today from climate change and for future generations”); the With All Foundation (“supporting those suffering from eating disorders”), and Fast and Female (“empowering girls through sports and physical activity”).

She enthusiastically shares her life stories as a professional athlete with fans. That also involves personal matters. Later, in 2021, she published Brave Enough, which also detailed her battles with mental health and bulimia.

“My biggest goal with this book was to bring some compassion, understanding, and conversation starters for people around the subject of mental health and specifically eating disorders,” she writes on her website.

“But I hoped readers would enjoy the racing, travel, and training stories as well! It has been humbling to hear the feedback from readers and how this book has impacted them and the conversations they have.”

“Jessie’s dedication to eating disorder prevention and female empowerment is incredibly inspiring, and I wish I would’ve had a role model like her when I was a young athlete myself,” says Ingrid Sampson, digital communications coordinator at Norway House.

“Seeing someone become such an accomplished, inspiring athlete and a dedicated activist for such important issues makes me so excited for all the young girls who will have Jessie to look up to.”

Diggins finished second in the World Cup standings the last two seasons, behind Natalia Nepryaeva (Russia) in 2022, and Tiril Udnes Weng (Norway) in 2023. She was second in distance this past campaign. Diggins reached the podium seven times (2-2-3), was third in the 50km Mass Start at Holmenkollen, 0.5 behind Norway’s Ragnhild Haga, 0.2 shy of another Norwegian Astrid Øyre Slind. At the World Championships at Planica, Slovenia, she won the 10km freestyle, and was third in Team Sprint Final with Julia Kern.

What she wrote in 2021 about her career is still apropos.

“I have given up things to become the best skier I can be,” she wrote. “In return, I have gained so much. I would make these same choices. They have shaped my life! I did a lot of growing up on the road surrounded by my teammates and coaches. I learned about other countries, cultures, and made friends around the world. I learned how to fail long before I learned how to win. I learned how to use my voice. I learned how to put everything I have toward a goal not knowing if I will achieve it or not but trusting the process of trying. In that pursuit, I have met the most amazing people from all around the world and been inspired by them.

“I truly enjoy the race day atmosphere, even when I’m nervous. Most important to remember, the days that go well are not that different from the days that don’t, if you feel you’ve done your best. You still have an incredible team of people working their hardest to get you to that start line with your best chance. So it’s okay to feel just as proud of the days when you don’t win.

“The team atmosphere we have right now feels supportive, fun, lighthearted. When it’s time to focus, we can turn it on.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.]

Avatar photo

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.