Ahead of World Cup ski season, Jessie Diggins talks about prioritizing her mental health

A cross country skier holds up a U.S. flag in celebration.
Nordic skier Jessie Diggins of the U.S. celebrates a victory at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Feb. 28 in Planica, Slovenia.
Maja Hitij | Getty Images

Nordic skiing star Jessie Diggins is in Finland, where the World Cup season will begin later this week.

The Minnesota native famously won gold at the 2018 Winter Winter Olympics, and last winter she became the first American to win an individual cross-country skiing world title.

But while Diggins has her sights set on the upcoming season, she’s also focused on her mental health. Earlier this year she spoke publicly about recent struggles with her eating disorder, after 12 years of recovery. This week she told reporters why she feels it’s important to share her story.

“It makes me feel really vulnerable, putting myself out there. Because everyone knows something really big about me,” she said. “But at the same time I’m trying to change the culture of sport for the better so that we can change the way that we talk about and address mental health. I want athletes to feel like they can talk about this with their coaches the way that I’ve been able to talk to my coaches.”

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Diggins noted she’s not the only elite athlete to discuss mental health struggles; others include Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Michael Phelps.

“We’re all human. And we’re doing the best we can every single day. So this season, I’m focusing on just doing my best and taking it one day at a time and one race at a time. I’m not making promises for the whole season. I’m not putting out results goals. I’m not promising that I’m going to be there at every single weekend. I’m just focusing on one day at a time and having it be a happy and healthy season as the priority.”

Jessie Diggins speaks in Duluth
Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins speaks at the Grand Avenue Nordic Center in Duluth in Nov. 2018.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2018

Diggins said she’s received a lot of support from teammates, coaches, sponsors and other skiers.

“The whole reason I shared this summer was to help people, and I don’t regret sharing my whole story and how I’ve had a bit of a relapse,” she said. “It has been challenging at times, it hasn’t always been easy. And in sharing my story, I got a lot of feedback from a lot of people that it helped them feel less alone. I got a lot of feedback from coaches and parents that it helped them find a way to connect with their athletes and their kids. And that was incredibly meaningful.”

There’s added excitement this season with Minneapolis set to host a World Cup cross-country ski event — the first time one has been held in the U.S. in more than 20 years. Diggins was instrumental in making that happen.

Beijing Olympics Cross Country
Jessie Diggins competes during the women's 30K mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China.
Alessandra Tarantino | AP 2022

“I’ve put so much of myself into this. So many people have, it’s amazing. It’s been six years of time and energy and sponsors and volunteers. And this means the world — it’s going to be incredible,” she said. “And it’s been very, very cool talking to other athletes on the World Cup and seeing how excited they are.”

Diggins said some of her family members haven’t seen her race in more than a decade, because they weren’t able to travel overseas. But she acknowledged that a World Cup event in her home state brings added pressure.

“It’s gonna be hard because I want to give everyone everything that they’re hoping for. I want to high-five every single person because we worked so hard to make this happen. And I know that I can't. And so I think I just have to find a way to say, “I'm doing the best I can.” And that’s gonna have to be enough — just doing the best I can every day.”

The World Cup event at Wirth Park is scheduled for Feb. 17-18.